Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 

Ashes, ashes

I knew I would post during Lent. Now I know what to post about. Tonight I watched a documentary, which some of you have perhaps already seen. I had not. It's called "Invisible Children."

We all have some general awareness, I think, of the tragic events that continue to unfold in the Sudan--particularly Darfur--and of ongoing conflict in Uganda. But the subject matter of this film was something that I hadn't heard about, so I thought I would share it in case you hadn't, either.

Every night in northern Uganda, literally thousands of children walk several miles from their homes in surrounding villages to the city to sleep. They sleep in hospitals and bus terminals and any public place that they can access, packed together like sardines. They do this because if they sleep at home in their villages, they fear capture by the rebel LRA (Lord's Resistence Army). The LRA abducts children ages 5-12 to desensitize, brainwash, and train for warfare. The war between the LRA and the government has lasted approximately two decades.

After filming this documentary, the three college-age students who made it have worked to mobilize people and organize support for these children. At invisiblechildren.com, you can find information about their 2007 initiatives: the Tri Campaign, Schools for Schools, and Displace Me. Please take some time to check these out. You can also purchase merchandise and the documentary itself.

The Tri Campaign asks for people to pledge three dollars a week to Invisible Children, and you can sign up right on the website. Schools for Schools pairs US schools with Ugandan schools, so American kids can see the money they raise resulting in buildings, books, and other supplies for these children. Displace Me will take place on April 28 in, I believe, 15 cities across the US. On that night, Invisible Children is calling on people to sleep in the streets to raise awareness about all of those displaced in northern Uganda.

I don't have the words to explain the situation adequately, and I hope at some point you will watch the film. In the meantime, I hope you will go to the website, and see how you can help these precious children rise triumphantly from the ashes.

www.invisiblechildren.com

Thursday, November 23, 2006

 

Thanksgiving Article from CNN

I really liked the teaching method in the first paragraph of this article. I thought I would share it with you...



Teaching Thanksgiving from a different perspective
POSTED: 10:23 a.m. EST, November 22, 2006

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LONG BEACH, California (AP) -- Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he "discovered" them.

The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.

Morgan is among elementary school teachers who have ditched the traditional Thanksgiving lesson, in which children dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and act out a romanticized version of their first meetings.

He has replaced it with a more realistic look at the complex relationship between Indians and white settlers.

Morgan said he still wants his pupils at Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. But "what I am trying to portray is a different point of view."

Others see Morgan and teachers like him as too extreme.

"I think that is very sad," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. "He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving."

Even American Indians are divided on how to approach a holiday that some believe symbolizes the start of a hostile takeover of their lands.

Chuck Narcho, a member of the Maricopa and Tohono O'odham tribes who works as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, said younger children should not be burdened with all the gory details of American history.

"If you are going to teach, you need to keep it positive," he said. "They can learn about the truths when they grow up. Caring, sharing and giving -- that is what was originally intended."

Adam McMullin, a member of the Seminole tribe of Oklahoma and a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, said schoolchildren should get an accurate historical account.

"You can't just throw an Indian costume on a child," he said. "That stuff is not taken lightly. That's where educators need to be very careful."

Becky Wyatt, a teacher at Kettering Elementary School in Long Beach, decided to alter the costumes for the annual Thanksgiving play a few years ago after local Indians spoke out against students wearing feathers, which are sacred in their culture. Now children wear simple headbands.

"We have many mixed cultures in Long Beach, so we try to be sensitive," Wyatt said. "What you teach little children is important."

Laverne Villalobos, a member of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska who now lives in the coastal town of Pacifica near San Francisco, considers Thanksgiving a day of mourning.

She went before the school board last week and asked for a ban on Thanksgiving re-enactments and students dressing up as Indians. She also complained about November's lunch menu that pictured a caricature of an Indian boy.

The mother of four said the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations in schools instill "a false sense of what really happened before and after the feast. It wasn't all warm and fuzzy."

After she complained, it was decided that pupils at her children's school will not wear Indian costumes this year.

James Loewen, a former history professor at the University of Vermont and author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong," said that during the first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrims had been living in relative peace, even though the tribe suspected the settlers of robbing Indian graves to steal food buried with the dead.

"Relations were strained, but yet the holiday worked. Folks got along. After that, bad things happened," Loewen said, referring to the bloody warfare that broke out later during the 17th century.

Morgan, a teacher for more than 35 years, said that after conducting his own research, he changed his approach to teaching about Thanksgiving. He tells teachers at his school this is a good way to nurture critical thinking, but he acknowledged not all are receptive: "It's kind of an uphill struggle."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

 

Imperialism, Christian and Non

I found this review of the movie "Borat" to be thought-provoking, even if I've only seen the commercials that make me laugh.

"What bothers me most about the movie is its premise: that villagers who have not embraced Western values are violently anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and misogynistic. Borat is an absurd caricature, but we wouldn’t laugh if we didn’t think there was some truth to the stereotype of the morally backward peasant.

This is the stereotype that arouses Westerners to become missionaries, and it’s not just Christians going out to redeem the peasants. There’s also a secular version of this impulse. The anthropologist Richard Shweder calls it “imperial liberalism”: the pressure on third world countries to mandate Western notions of individual rights even when they conflict with local customs and family traditions.

If you went into a real Kazakh village (as opposed to the one in “Borat,” which was actually in Romania), you’d find a lot of people — women as well as men — who frown on American values. They admire some of our freedoms and rights, but they also see the flip side of Western individualism: weaker families. They feel sorry for all the children separated from parents, all the adults living alone."
-- John Tierney, NY Times Op-Ed

Monday, October 09, 2006

 

a completely different language


A very dear friend of mine came to visit me today. We've known each other since high school and all through college I considered her a "kindred spirit", as Anne of Green Gable would have it. She was the sort of girl who knew exactly where I was at, just like I knew where she was. She was the dear, dear sort of friend with whom I never needed to explain. It amazed me that even though we'd only see each other every six months, our paths ran so perfectly parallel. I would want to talk to her about a situation with a boy, and she'd have a nearly identical situation. She would feel like God was teaching her this amazing thing, and shockingly, I'd be learning the same lesson. It felt so miraculous to me to have a friend who not only listened, but knew. What a gift that was!

But then I went to Japan and she got married. Wonderful adventures we've both had, but so different.

And today, as she rocked her sweet-smelling infant with handknit booties, I realized that we no longer even speak the same language. The words she uses to talk about her faith, about being "saved", about God's leading, about "The One", about praise and worship, these words don't mean the same things to me... some of them don't mean anything at all to me anymore.

And it all just made me unspeakably sad. Because I held my tongue. I knew that it would wound her for me to tell her about the samurai stroke that took down my brick-wall faith in one fell swoop. How could I do that to my dear friend? How could I explain to her that I find a great deal of truth in acknowledging the mystery that surrounds God, or the deep peace of community without pressure, or in reconciliation? How could I let her see my confusion on things like universalism and evangelicalism and salvation? She would worry. She would hurt.

This girl wanted me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. We've cried together and hugged a thousand times, and offered each other words of comfort in dark times. And we used to pray together, such lovely sincere prayers. But I feel like things will never be the same.

What an awful price we pay, my friends.

Has this happened to you? How do you bridge these theological rifts? Do you ignore them? Pretend you haven't changed? Lay it all on the table whatever the cost to a dear relationship?

And the thing is, she's still just as sincere, just as full of life and zeal. (I used to be that, I think...) Maybe I'm just dead wrong. Or maybe we're just on two sides of the same coin. It doesn't feel that way sometimes.

I don't know. Talk to me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

Okay, so I'm struggling...

The latest of my questions concerns God's interest in my life. I'm a cynic and tend not to think that God really cares what we pursue as career, friends, or weekend plans. If we really have free choice (and I fly in the face of reformed theology every day), I can't believe that God didn't set things up in such a way as to rather run themselves.

Predestination - Jesus died for us all, so by that act, we're all predestined to have access to Him. This doesn't mean that everyone accepts Him, ultimately, but I also don't think God hand selected His 'A' squad before the dawn of time.

God's Will - Simply, God wills that everyone would accept and love Him to the point of wanting to spend forever with Him. He's not naive, so I'm sure He's come to understand that this is not status quo. Other than that, the great commission speaks for itself in Jesus's desire that we act as His representatives and tell everyone about Him, leaving the choice to the individual. This takes a lot of stress off of us because it doesn't require turning someone's heart, something we're not even capable. I don't believe God wants people to spend eternity with Him if they don't choose to do so. At the end of the day, I empathize with Karl Barth's hopeful universalist approach and hold it myself. However, I, too, am not as naive as to think that God has to do what I think He should do.

Our choices - If God doesn't need my work to further His kingdom, if He's capable of unilaterally doing whatever He wants, work must not be necessary for anyone other than the individual. So, if the repetition prompts responsibility and maturity, bring it on. Moving on, I had free will described as a GPS directional tool in a vehicle. If you take a path other than what the machine tells you, after its prompting to turn back, it will forge a new path for you. I believe God has a perfect will stated as simply as 'love people well, and in doing so, you love Me well.' With the new path forged, God opens the door to using you no matter what the situation. I don't believe God plans for anything negative. I don't believe we deserve either good or bad. If we deserved what we got, we'd all be dead. If Bartimaeus of the Bible didn't deserve to be born blind because of his own fault or his parents fault, what makes us think our sin prompts Jesus to turn His face away or towards us? I don't think God gets off on young people dying in car crashes, terminally ill people failing to cancer, or babies being born with deformities. In a sinful world, our collective poor choices bring us here. The Bible isn't full of rules; it's full of principles. Deviating from His best plan brings heartache because He built us and knows how we work. That said, He's capable of using whatever we throw at Him, but our best bet is to live by what we do know about Him, the things He's told us in His book. The peripherals (careers, houses, hobbies, spouses, plans, mouses) don't seem to matter much or affect God much. That said, I do believe He knows what best suits us, and I think He's willing to show us those things.

Personal responsibility - I think that we are responsible for more than we want to take credit. If I don't prepare for an audition and don't get a job, it's not God's will that I didn't do my job. He's very much a fan of self-discipline. Again, God doesn't get off on us not doing what He gifted us to do. People seem to believe that God is going to zap them with whatever they want (Let go, and let God). The world is hard, and it's not easier (professionally) for us simply because we love Jesus. As lovers of Jesus, though, Spiderman theology takes over because great power does necessitate great responsibility. We're more accountable to Him because He knows we know the truth. It's our job to take care of the people in our spheres because we were told to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We have so much going for us because we have some power by way of living in the USA, being somewhat middle class, and having resources to utilize.

That's it. I'd appreciate any thoughts. This weighs on me because, unlike the 1950s, Jesus isn't black and white anymore. I fear being wrong, but I don't fear not knowing what to do in the meantime. Let's palaver.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

 

okay, fine. you leave me with no alternatives.

This is sad, people. Sad. Look at us.

Rise up, ye bloggers! Say things!

Because if you won't, the same pitying impulse that always made me (rather dorkily) answer teachers' questions so they wouldn't feel bad will force me to post things like this, just so our poor blog-child won't feel so bedraggled:

The Black Table's "How to do Idiotic Things" file, which uses salty language to teach us valuable skills like how to make prison hooch ("pruno") out of valencia oranges and ketchup and how to make lamps out of blenders, brings us to a new level of devotion:

How to Make Your Own Personal Jesus Toast

Friday, June 23, 2006

 

Here, there, and everywhere (?)

So I've done some traveling. I lived in Russia and visited both China and the Dominican Republic. I'd like to think, based on these experiences, and the way I live my life, that I have somewhat of a global perspective. I try to help others have a global perspective too. I try to motivate myself and others to care about world issues and to work towards bringing peace and justice and health and hope. As we have mentioned in previous posts, I do not advocate "missions" per se, but instead the desire to understand the world. Through understanding, I believe, I can be a part of change in the world. If I understand a problem (and its root), I am much more capable of actually helping in a genuine and useful way.

But lately I've been hitting a road block. Is it right of me to focus so much on the world and not so much on domestic issues of poverty and injustice? Is it easier to go to another country and try to work towards peace, than to help in my own community? Can I justify sending money overseas when there is overwhelming need in my own backyard?

I guess I'm also bothered as I realize the destruction that Western (white) societies have spread throughout the world. It seems ironic to me that we (white people) can ruin the economy of developing countries and create conflict while simutaneously bringing "the good news" and aid. I'm not against good news and aid, but I am against the denial of historical injustice. For instance, it does not seem right to me that Western powers can turn a country on itself and then intervene to "stop" a conflict that they created. Wouldn't it be better to acknowledge these failures and injustices and then allow a country to heal on its own? Maybe some of these developing countries would rather not have us around... (Ok, so I realize that I'm generalizing a lot and not all white people are of the same mind... we're not just one big white brain... but isn't it a little arrogant to have the attitude that we can solve the world's problems - economically, spiritually, socially?)

That previous paragraph is heavy and implies many things that I don't totally agree with, but I don't know how else to ask those questions...

When I was in the Dominican Republic I heard one Dominican friend refer to the United States as the "beast of the North." She was not angry, she was just stating the obvious. I thought to myself, "What has the West represented to her?" Maybe the year 1492 is not the same great date in her mind. Maybe she wishes that Columbus had never "sailed the ocean blue."

As I write I'm thinking that I might have bit off more than I can chew with this post. I am sure I am going to get hammered, but at least then maybe I can clarify myself a bit more. (That is, if anyone is still checking this blog...) I also realize that we come from many different perspectives.

At the center, I think these are my questions...
How much should Americans be involved with international problems, in light of the many problems we find here in America, and the many problems we represent, as Westerners, to the rest of the world? Are people in developing countries justified in not wanting Westerners around (even if we do want to help)?

Also, since this is such a current struggle in my mind, please walk with me through it and realize that I'm not really looking for a cut and dry answer... I'm looking for people who are willing to struggle with me and ask questions... and hopefully one day we can live into the answer (as Rilke would say).

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