Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

As we approach Veterans Day (Nov. 11), I am moved to reflect on another year in which our nation has been involved in the Iraq war with no resolution in sight, and now is threatening to attack Iran to involve us into yet another conflict. Meanwhile wars of various intensities go on between forces in Sudan, Palestine/Israel, Turkey/Kurdistan, Pakistan, and many other places. Theologian and political scientist Reinhold Niebuhr (Children of Light, Children of Darkness; Moral Man and Immoral Society;, The Nature and Destiny of Man) said that such conflicts are inevitable and necessary because nations, like individuals, are inherently self-centered, and therefore can only be restrained from forcing the will and way on other nations by the threat and use of violence. Niebuhr, who was a pacifist early in his career as a pastor and activist with autoworkers in Detroit, rejected pacifism as impractical and unrealistic in a spiritually fallen world. However, the pacifism of Niebuhr’s day had not been informed by Gandhi’s concept of satygraha (truth-force), nor had it seen the incredible power of nonviolence used in the U.S. Civil Rights movement or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The pacifism of Niebuhr’s day was passive, calling for nonresistance and nonintervention in issues of social injustice. It did not engage injustice or violence; it simply avoided it.

In contrast theologian Walter Wink has called this perspective on the inevitability of violence, the “myth of redemptive violence.” In short the myth of redemptive violence states “that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world” (The Powers That Be, p. 42). Wink goes on to point out that this myth is repeated and reinforced in Greek myth, in Saturday morning cartoon shows, in shows like “24” and movies like “Diehard” and in any number of religious texts including the Bible. It is also the ideology of most governments, including our own. Wink concludes: “In short the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favor those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favor of the gods” (p. 48).

The problem is that violence and war give birth to resentment, oppression and eventually more violence and war. The wars mentioned above all were birthed out of previous wars. World War I planted the seeds of World War II, which gave birth to the Cold War, which birthed numerous small “hot wars,” including Korea and Vietnam, which led to our involvement in suppressing countries in the Middle East, which led to 9/11, which led to Iraq and potentially Iran. Now while this analysis is admittedly simplistic, it does illustrate my point: war does not and has not brought peace or order, but rather quite the opposite. Despite the overarching acceptance of the myth of redemptive violence, there have been a few exceptions to this pattern, such as Gandhi’s movement to throw off British rule in the 1940’s, the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, all of which used assertive non-violence to fight oppression and injustice rather than war. South Africa took the process to the logical, but rarely tried, next step with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which whites, Boers, and Africans, oppressors and oppressed, went before the nation to tell their stories, confess their crimes and seek national reconciliation. Instead of hiding one’s crimes and injustice behind a patriotic violence as a “just cause,” the South Africans confessed their crimes and have achieved national reconciliation and healing to an unprecedented degree.

No doubt as we approach Veterans Day we will hear a great deal about how soldiers past and present have “fought for our freedom” as Americans. I would only ask how much freer we feel for having engaged in all our many wars. The notion that fighting a war in Iraq somehow preserves my freedom as an American shows the utter absurdity of the myth of redemptive violence. In this time when war is enshrined, I hope that in our more sober moments we see the myth of redemptive violence for what it is, and seek a better way.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gun Violence Prevention

This past week the news has been filled with the shootings at SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. Asa Coon, a 14 year old student entered the school with two revolvers and shot two students and two teachers before shooting himself. Closer to home in Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania, Dillon Casey, another 14 year old boy was intercepted with an entire arsenal of guns before he entered his high school to pull off a similar kind of shooting. On Friday (10/12) in Royersford, Pennsylvania the high school football game was cancelled after a teenager pulled a gun on another boy over a girlfriend. This week these incidents covered the front pages the Philadelphia area newspapers but on the back pages we continue to read of youth violence in the city continuing at a record pace.

Understandably, a great deal of talk has been generated about school security, the impact of bullying on the perpetrators, and the "warning signs” to look for in kids like these. However, no one seems to be asking a more basic question: where the hell did these kids get the guns? Conflicts between boys at school, bullies, and troubled teens are not new phenomena. Those issues were around when I was in high school and when my dad was in high school. This is not to say the behavior and emotional turmoil of such kids are not of concern, but we used to deal with these issues with words and fists. Rarely, did people end up getting killed, because no one had such easy access to guns.

On October 6, I attended a conference sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) on gun violence prevention. At that event I heard a speaker named Bryan Miller, who is the Executive Director of Cease Fire New Jersey (CFNJ). Several years ago Bryan left a job in international business to found CFNJ after his brother was gunned down by a teenager using an illegal handgun. His mission is simple: get illegal handguns off the street. His approach has been successful in New Jersey and now he has turned his sights on Pennsylvania, because the lax handgun laws in PA are fueling the trafficking of handguns up and down the Northeast.

Almost all youth violence occurs with the use of illegally purchased handguns. According the government statistics cited by Miller, only 25% of the criminal gun use in New Jersey is committed with guns bought in New Jersey. The rest of the guns come from Pennsylvania. The same is true for New York and Maryland. By contrast 80% of the criminal gun use in Pennsylvania comes from guns bought in Pennsylvania. Why is this? Because anyone over the age of 18, without a criminal record or a record of mental illness can buy as many handguns as they want with no waiting period. This lax policy fuels an illegal market for handguns.

According to Bryan Miller, here is how it works. Illegal gun marketers, who usually have criminal records, hire “straw buyers” to purchase guns on their behalf. A minimal background check is done with state and national databases for any record of criminal activity, and the buyer can walk out with the guns. Then, the straw buyer hands the guns to the illegal gun marketer for a small commission. The guns are then sold illegally in the underground market and there is no documentation of the real owner of the gun. When a crime is committed and the gun is traced back to straw buyers, they say the gun was lost or stolen, and nothing can be done. Those guns are out on the illegal market free and clear.

For years the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have tried to change the state laws on gun sales to no avail. They have even tried to pass laws simply within their own jurisdictions, and have been blocked by the state legislature. The National Rifle Association (NRA) which lavishly funds the campaign chests of most state and federal legislators (regardless of political party) opposes any restrictions of gun sales, and has blocked these efforts at every turn. While stating that they are representing the legal gun owners, the NRA is really serving its larger client, the gun industry. According to Bryan Miller, the gun industry is a mature industry, meaning they have sold as many legal guns as they are going to sell. So to expand their business they need the illegal market. As long as politicians feel beholden to the NRA and its wealthy coffers, laws designed to restrict the sale of handguns (as opposed to hunting rifles or sport guns) will not be changed. Bryan Miller’s strategy is to put pressure on the politicians to listen to the people instead of the NRA.

Miller has proposed two simple bills in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. HR 29 would require buyers to report to the police when their guns are lost or stolen. Failure to report would carry a fine and there would be a greater penalty if the gun was used in a crime. The goal of this bill is to discourage the practice of straw buying. The second Bill HB22 would limit buyers to purchase only one handgun a month. The purpose of this bill would be to make the task of purchasing illegal handguns much more difficult for buyers and marketers.

CFNJ was able to push through similar bills in New Jersey with dramatic results. Two Philadelphia Inquirer reporters wrote a story comparing handgun sales in PA and NJ. Each went into to buy a gun. In PA the reporter walked in and asked to buy a handgun and 45 minutes later he walked out of the store, gun in hand. In NJ the reporter needed to wait a month just to get permission to purchase the gun.

Bryan Miller helped start Cease Fire PA (CFPA). I would urge folks to check out their information and if you are in Pennsylvania write your representatives about these two bills. Miller believes from research he has done that there is overwhelming support for these bills once people understand (1) the true purpose of the bill is to restrict the sale of illegal handguns and (2) they don’t restrict the legal uses of guns for hunting, sport shooting, and collecting. If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, check out the laws in your own state. Chances are there is work to be done there as well.

Obviously, the job will not be complete until the gun companies are held accountable for their complicity in the illegal gun sales. Right now several cities (including Philadelphia and New York) have sought to sue the gun companies over their role in the illegal gun market, but thanks to the NRA-sponsored George W. Bush administration, most of those suits have been blocked by the Justice Department. However, just like the tobacco companies were finally brought to justice over their complicity in hiding the cancerous effects of smoking, so too the clock is ticking for the gun companies. They know it, and they will put up a smokescreen and a fight. So those who believe in peace must push back.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Faith Like Mother Theresa

In late August the Vatican released copies of letters that revealed that Mother Theresa, the diminutive nun who founded the Sisters of Charity, had spent much of her adult life feeling distant and alienated from God. These letters, written by Mother Theresa to priests and friends who served as her confidants and confessors, were never intended to be made public. However, as part of the Roman Catholic canonization process these documents are being reviewed and for unspecified reasons have now been made public. When the news outlets first announced the story, they presented it with a mixture of surprise and sadness. How could this woman who had served the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, had inspired thousands to pursue a life of service, and had challenged millions with her example and her message,… how could SHE feel distant from God? As David Van Biema stated in a Time magazine (9/3/07) article on the announcement, her “remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God,” yet she confessed at many times “the silence and emptiness is so great.” Mother Theresa, whom many had put on a spiritual pedestal, turned out to be a struggling and spiritual barren human being who for nearly 50 years went through life feeling the absence and distance of God, rather than God’s intimacy. How could such a person be considered for sainthood?

I must admit that even though I too was surprised, I found great comfort when I heard the reports. Like many evangelical Protestant Christians, I was taught to believe that God “had a wonderful plan for my life” and that I could have “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I believed that if I read my Bible regularly, prayed daily, worshipped faithfully, and sought to live out the principles of my faith, I would have a clear sense of God’s presence in my life. As a Baptist pastor I regularly repeated such sentiments in my preaching and teaching. Certainly there might be some periods of spiritual dryness, but over time I would grow in my sense of intimacy with God. That was how Christian faith was supposed to work, or so I thought.

However, when I left the pastorate, stepped back and looked at my spiritual life, I began to question the veracity and validity of that perspective. I began to wonder if I had simply participated in a sophisticated self-delusion, and if in fact I could even call myself a Christian. I never lost my fascination and deep respect for Jesus of Nazareth, but I felt increasingly alienated from the tradition that sprang from him. Like Mother Theresa, when I meditated and prayed, the only thing I heard was my own hollow inner voice.

That emptiness has continued for 10 years with two exceptions. First, when I attend worship at the West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship where I am a member, I regularly come away thinking that maybe this God and Jesus stuff could be true. This reminder is not prompted by anything in the worship per se (i.e. the music, the sermon, the prayers, communion, etc), but rather simply in the gathering of like-minded people on a similar hungry quest. At WPMF we talk openly about our questions and doubts while recommitting ourselves to continue to live according the dictates of our faith. Somehow being surrounded by folks on a similar journey keeps me from feeling so spiritually alienated.

The second place where the sense of isolation lifts is when I find myself in service with and to other people. In a way I can’t fully comprehend, I often sense something of Jesus in other people. As a college professor, I am fortunate to have regular opportunities to interact with adults and young people who are seeking to expand their minds and deepen their understanding of life. My work regularly brings me in contact with folks old and young, educated and functionally illiterate, who are seeking to serve others in the midst of their own struggle and brokenness. I also volunteer as a tutor helping a young woman learn how to read, and am in awe of her desire to master the written word. In these folks I see the life and truth and Jesus.

I believe it was Mother Theresa who said that we see meet Jesus in the lives of the poor. While she may not have heard the voice or sensed the presence of God in her inner life, by her own testimony she met Jesus daily in her service to the broken beggars of Calcutta. I have come to accept that I will never have a deep sense of inner intimacy with God in my life. Yet, Mother Theresa’s example encourages me to believe that as I seek to become more of a servant to others, I have the hope of touching the Transcendent through the lives of people I meet.

Atheists like Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice) will venture that this faith business is all a dangerous and socially destructive self-delusion. He draws this conclusion based on the the wealth of examples of religion gone bad from Pat Robertson to Jim Jones to Osama Bin Laden. However, for me faith is validated in the quiet lives of faithfulness of people who despite their faults live according to their deeply held values. No doubt we Christians get it wrong much, if not most, of the time. However we get it right when our actions demonstrate our faith, even when our faith, like Mother Theresa’s, limps along with doubts and questions. As we serve, Jesus can and does surprise us in the lives of the people we encounter.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Generational Musings

The most recent issue of Utne Reader (Sept/Oct 2007) featured a series of three articles discussing the role Baby Boomers can and should play in shaping and changing the world of the 21st century. Boomers are that generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 who currently makeup 20% of the population. Essentially, the articles centered on the question: Do Boomers have something to offer the younger generation in terms of wisdom and experience, or are they simply a generation of self-absorbed, would be do-gooders, who don’t want to grow up and will be a tremendous financial and social burden on the younger generations behind them? As a Boomer college professor and father of three young adults, and as one who spends a great deal of time around twenty-and-thirty-somethings, I had more than a passing interest in the discussion.

In the opening article, “The New Elders” Eric Utne and Richard Leider propose that because Boomers are working and living longer, they ought to focus on passing along the wisdom of their experiences, both positive and negative. They also propose that Boomers need to listen to Millenials and Baby Busters because they have mastered the world of information. The mixture of wisdom with knowledge could be a powerful combination. Of course, in order to mentor someone, you have to be asked.

That is the issue K.C. Compton takes up in the second article, “You Say You Want a Revolution.” Compton, a woman in her 50’s, recounts all the cultural and societal changes that came about because of the activism of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. She admits that Boomers can be “narcissistic and self-righteous,” but claims that her generation didn’t fail, they just got overwhelmed with all that needed to be changed. Compton goes too easy on Boomers. I remember thinking even in college in the early 70’s that most folks in my generation were shifting from a superficial commitment to change to an all-out embrace of materialism. We didn’t get overwhelmed; we switched sides.

The final article, “Tangled Up in Me” is written by Joseph Hart, a non-Boomer who basically thinks Boomers overestimate their worth and value. He writes, “the generation that exhorted us to never trust anyone older than 30 – then grew up and proved the point by ushering in the long nightmare of social conservatism and permanent war that is our current reality.” Hart’s critique is a bit harsh, as the Reagan era while supported by Boomers, was largely an attempt by the WWII generation to bring us back to an idyllic “morning in America” that never actually existed. Even so, he is correct in that the Clinton and Bush eras have been characterized by war, greed and corruption. Hart’s final word is “a higher road and more challenging practice [for Boomers] would be for them to shut up and listen for a change.” Ouch!

Recently at a conference on social change, I made a presentation on the spirituality of hope for political activists based on some of the writings of Paulo Freire. One participant asked me what gave me hope. Without so much as a thought, I said: “My children and my students.” While I read about how undisciplined and unfocused young adults are, I continually SEE and MEET young adults who are passionate, intelligent, and concerned for peace and justice. I see people who are writing, acting, starting businesses, working overseas, teaching, and raising families in alternative ways. These young adults give me great hope for the future. My own children are exploring careers and life directions pointed at relieving suffering and challenging injustice. As a result, I increasingly find myself sitting back and listening because I think they have great insights that still can make a positive difference in the world.

While it is a time when young adults are stepping up, it’s not a time for Boomers to sit down. I would hope we can learn and grow together and continue to address some of the major challenges that still face us: old, young and in-between.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Irish Reflections

Recently, I spent 12 days in Ireland with my wife and twenty year old daughter. I had never been to the “green isle” before, so this was new adventure. As I understand it, Ireland has experienced an economic resurgence over the past decade, and as a result has emerged as the European vacation of choice for many Americans (according to at least one tour guide I spoke with). For nearly two weeks I was immersed in Irish life and culture, which I found interesting and refreshing. I would like to share four concrete insights that struck me on my trip. Even though they are obviously through the lens of a tourist (for Ireland’s tourist industry is definitely a well-oiled machine), I think there may be some deeper realities to consider.

One thing that strikes any American visitor to Ireland is the cleanliness of the place. Not only are the streets clean and trash picked up, but the air is clear and free of smog, even in Dublin which is a bustling city of over a million people. The parks are beautifully maintained, as if they are golf courses. More importantly, throughout the country there are signs reminding people to recycle and to think in terms of renewable energy. Because the roads are narrow and the gas prices high, people drive small, energy efficient cars. We saw several brands of cars (such as a Nissan Micra) that aren’t even sold in the United States, and we didn’t see one gas-guzzling SUV. During the entire tip I only saw one public restroom that had paper towels to dry your hands; everywhere else there were blowers to dry one’s hands. Instead of environmental responsibility being an individual choice, as it is in the U.S., in Ireland environmental concern is a cultural mandate. I could not help but recognize how arrogant and wasteful the U.S. attitude toward ecological concerns are compared to the Irish.

Closely aligned to their environmental concerns is the sense of connection to the rest of the world. Ireland is a member in the European Union and so our money was in the form of Euros. On the news reports there was this clear awareness that Ireland was part of a larger global community, not only with Europe, but throughout the world. In the city of Dublin banners adorn the light poles that announce that Dublin is a “fair trade city,” thus linking Dublin’s economy to the farmers and producers in developing countries. Almost all the coffee shops we entered sold fair trade coffee and many of the markets had fair trade fruits and vegetables. In this country we often talk about being part of a global community, but we do so only on our terms. If we don’t agree with what the rest of the world desires, be it in military matters, foreign policy, or business, we think we are big enough to simply go it alone. As we are finding out in Iraq, that is a dangerously flawed policy. The Irish, by contrast, have what appears to be a healthy sense of interdependence.

During our time there, the country was involved in the all-Ireland finals for Gaelic Football and for Hurling. For those who haven’t been introduced to these two sports, they are fast moving, high scoring, and exciting to watch, and Irish people get as excited about their sports, as Americans do theirs. I would love to see Hurling (which is sort of combination lacrosse, soccer, and football) come to the United States. One night I sat in a pub talking to older Irish men, and was surprised to learn that virtually all sports in Ireland are amateur. So when 50,000+ folks packed into Dublin’s Croke stadium to see the Hurling Semifinals, they were watching guys who had to go back to work on Monday just like them. I found it refreshing to realize that the Irish players and spectators participate for the love of sport, and the business of sport is a minor concern. While I am sure there is manipulation and corruption at some level, they have not so distorted sport that a few big, fast, brawny guys get rewarded with salaries and accolades that are way out of line with their overall social value, while spectators are endlessly gouged.

Finally, I was struck by the sense of history among the Irish. We visited ruins that went back as far as 7000 B.C., toured castles of the 12 century and saw prisons that held the revolutionaries from the rebellions of the early 1900’s. Now in part this was due to the fact that these sites are featured in the tourism guides, and I was told by some Irish folks that like elsewhere visitors are often more aware of their history than the Irish are. I know that is true for Philadelphia; many local residents have never visited the historic district. Even so, because so many ancient buildings still stand and are still in use, history is just embedded into the way people live. The Irish language is now being taught in school, after almost being eradicated by the English in the 18th and 19th century. Like other countries going through an economic boon, Ireland has experienced an influx of immigrants, particularly from Poland, Russia and Asia, yet even with that there is a sense of rootedness that was interesting. Not only did I get the sense that the Irish are connected to the rest of the world, but they are connected to their ancestors and their past. They have a greater sense of where they have come from.

My buddies at the pub assured me that Ireland has its share of problems. Apparently, the prime minister is involved is in some sort of scandal, and there was evidence of debates over land use and the huge subsidies that are paid to Irish farmers. So by no means do I mean to paint Ireland as a utopia. However, whenever one goes to another country or culture, he/she has the opportunity to see their own culture in a fresh light. That is what happened to me. There is so much more I could say, and you are welcome to look at some pictures we took. But I was struck by what we as American could learn from the Irish; I came away very much touched by their refreshing approach to life in the world today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Not So Simple Way

NOTE: While this blog refers to the Simple Way Community, I shold note that they are still recovering from the terrible fire that destroyed the space where their ministry has occurred. They have organized their neighborhood to have the building that burned into a park for children. For more see

Recently, I read Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, as well as Schools of Conversion, which has been put together by some of the folks involved in the new monasticism movement. As I read these books, I found myself resonating with their call to a simple lifestyle, centered on the way of Jesus in community with the poor and oppressed. At the same time I found myself looking around at my way of life and all of my stuff, and wondering "How did I stray so far from the path laid out by The Simple Way and groups like them?"

When I was in my twenties I espoused and sought to live out the same values of simplicity, honesty, faithfulness and solidarity with the poor that Claiborne talks about in his book. While I did not live in intentional Christian community, there were several other folks around me who were traveling a similar path. Furthermore, there were plenty of examples such as the Sojourners in Washington, D.C., Jubilee Fellowship in Philadelphia, Reba Place in Evanston and many others outlined in the books like Living Together in A World Falling Apart and The Mustard Seed Conspiracy. There were even a few intentional Christian communities in our Boston neighborhood, even though they all disbanded for one reason or another after a short period of time.

When Cynthia and I got married, we continued to espouse those values, even fasting once a week as both a spiritual discipline, and a reminder of the hunger in the world. We lived simply not only because we had to, but because we felt it to be our calling. We interacted regularly with folks our age who shared the same visions and passions.

However, when I graduated from seminary and became a pastor we lost that sense of interdependent community. Living in church-owned parsonages, we found ourselves in the position of being financially dependent on folks who were not dependent on us. It was an uneven and uneasy kind of community. Furthermore, while we tried to continue our focus on the simplicity and justice, most folks in our congregations espoused a Christian faith that was materialistic and nationalistic. We found ourselves as lone voices in churches and communities in lockstep with the government's drumbeat toward war (the CIA-inspired wars in Central America, Panama, Grenada, and Desert Storm). While there was some solace I could take in being “prophetic,” I see now that we were being shaped nonetheless.

Giving birth to three daughters added another dimension that forced decisions about health care, safety and educational opportunity. When our first daughter was born, we lived in Jersey City, NJ, which was located in an area known as “cancer alley”, so named because the air quality was so toxic that there is a significantly higher cancer rate than elsewhere across the country. The schools were in receivership and homelessness and drug abuse were rampant. A toxic waste dump burned less than a mile from our home. Several times we found homeless people sleeping under our front porch. Both Cynthia and I were involved in work to address these problems, but the birth of a child gave us a responsibility beyond ourselves. Could we subject her to such an environment? We chose to move to a rural community in southern Minnesota where the air and water were still clean, and the streets were safe. Two more children were born. After 5 years we found that environment too sterile and decided to move to the Philadelphia area, in large part because of greater educational and cultural opportunities for our kids.

When I finally left the pastorate in 1997 and we no longer lived in parsonages, we entered the world of homeownership, mortgages, real estate taxes and suburban life. We chose to stay in the same community because at the time it was the least disruptive for our kids. So our kids grew up in suburbia. We did the suburban thing with park league sports, band, and so on. Along the way we accumulated a pile of material things: books, clothes, furniture, gadgets, even a swimming pool that came with our house. The pressure and expectation of providing our kids with the same things and opportunities as their upper middle class friends was tremendous and many times we capitulated.

But if the issue was just about “stuff,” that would be easy enough to deal with. What I realize is that slowly and imperceptibly we have become acclimated to the way of privilege. What I realize is that not only is this lifestyle costly in terms of money, but also in terms of time driving, taking care of my lawn, and generally taking care of all the stuff. Moreover, even if I was to rid myself of all my material things, I could not remove the sense of cultural entitlement that comes from being educated, white and middle class. I don’t begrudge the opportunities I have had, or those that I have provided my children, but I do recognize my racial-cultural-economic standing allows me to make choices that sets me apart and cuts me off from the vast majority of the world’s population.

So we continue to grapple. Cynthia and I have tried to be conscious of our buying habits: we recycle, we spend our money judiciously, and try to live out our commitments in both our personal and professional lives. We have joined an urban church. Cynthia serves the poor as a social worker and I teach students from Philadelphia. We talk about down sizing and possibly moving into the city.

Ironically, throughout this entire time, we have sought to be careful and conscientious, and strive for a life centered on faith, compassion, generosity and justice. We have not been blind to the forces that were shaping us, and yet it happened any way. I take responsibility for my part in the whole process. I am not going to blame the government, the media, other people, or the churches we were part of. Nor am I prone to wallow in guilt.

Yet I find myself wondering would we have made these same decisions had we been surrounded by a like-minded Christian community? Moreover, I wonder what it will take to live out the vision evidenced by the leaders of the new monasticism. Untangling myself from all the material, social and spiritual suburban trappings is not without cost. I run the risk of alienating some of the people closest to me in my search for a life clearly embodying the values and principles of Jesus. I am not complaining, as much as I am expressing an ongoing quandary.

Through it all, the simple way does not seem so simple.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Re-newed Civil Rights Challenge

On Friday, June 29, the Philadelphia Inquirer had a disturbing juxtaposition of headlines. At the top of the page were the words “Justices limit race-based school plans,” referring to Thursday’s Supreme Court Ruling invalidating programs in Seattle and Louisville that were designed to maintain racial balance by regulating transfers to schools on the basis of race. Right below was the headline “Immigration Bill Crushed,” referring to the vote in the U.S. Senate that defeated Pres. Bush’s second attempt at passing an immigration bill. While referring to different issues, both events seem to point to a new challenge in the civil rights struggle.

In the Supreme Court Case, from all appearances the decision reverses the intent of the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS case, which called for the racial desegregation of schools. Yet, Chief Justice Roberts used the 1954 decision to justify the recent court’s decision, saying it was “more faithful to the heritage of Brown.” He went on to say that the U.S. Constitution is “color blind when it comes to race.” What Constitution is he referring to? Is this the Constitution that mandated that African slaves be counted as 3/5 of a person in 1787? Or the one that made slavery legal until 1806? Or the Constitution that was used to justify Jim Crow laws and mandated “separate but equal” (they maintained the separate but not equal part of that)? Is this the Constitution that had to be challenged in the 1954 decision and the 1963 Civil Rights legislation? Now true all of these laws have been changed or repealed, but my point is that the U. S. Constitution has repeatedly been used to justify all sorts of prejudicial and discriminatory actions against people of color. Did Judge Roberts consult the NAACP, the Urban League or the any number of civil rights organizations whose mission it is to monitor the progress of laws like Brown? To suggest that the Constitution has not been used to support white privilege and white power is to deny history, and to not be vigilant to insidious ways racism creeps into our thinking.

Which brings me to the immigration debate. As I have said on this blog, I am no fan of the current immigration legislation. I think any bill that is currently being debated ignores the larger regional issues creating the current situation. However, conservative opponents referred to the proposed guest worker program as “amnesty.” The proposed guest worker program required that undocumented immigrants to pay hefty fines and reapply every two years. I thought “amnesty” was when you got off without penalty, when there were no repercussions for one’s crimes? Paying fines with money you don’t have (especially when you are being paid substandard wages to start with) and being forced to leave the country to reapply, sounds pretty punitive to me.

Now granted, the bill was opposed by both liberals and conservatives, and had many problems with it. But I think there is something deeper going on in this use of the word “amnesty.” Senator Ted Kennedy who supported the bill, along with a number of people across the political spectrum, compared the current immigration debate to the civil rights struggle of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I think Senator Kennedy is on target.

Herein lies the connection between the Supreme Court case and the Senate vote. Even as a certain element of our society seeks to roll back the gains of civil rights, we are facing another civil rights challenge. While most whites in this country like to think we have “put racism behind us” (a contention most people of color would dispute), for some reason we keep tripping over the fact that our society does not treat people of different races equally. For example, in a side bar to the article on the court case, the Inquirer said the court decision would have “little impact” on the Philadelphia region, because we have “residential segregation.” That’s a euphemistic way of saying Philadelphia proper is overwhelmingly poor and people of color, while the suburbs are overwhelmingly white and middle class. We’ve made integration darn near impossible because the kids are in separate, but very unequal, school districts. Racism, legally supported is alive and well.

I wish I had some solutions to these civil rights challenges; like many I keep seeking and listening. In particular I am willing to listen when people of color and civil rights organizations who tell me that any progress we have made in this area is being reversed. Furthermore, I suspect the challenges we face in the current immigration issue are of the same magnitude as the Brown vs. Board of Education case was in 1954. With the way current events have gone, it appears we have cycled back around and haven’t made as much progress as those of us who are white would like to think we have.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Reflections on the Kensington Fire

I had just been planning to post some reflections on Shane Claiborne’s book, Irresistible Revolution, when I learned that Shane and his community, the Simple Way had been caught in a terrible warehouse fire that has burned for several days this week in the Kensington section of Philadelphia and temporarily displaced over 100 people and close to 30 families. At this point eight families lost their homes. Among those affected were members of the Simple Way . Two members lost all their belongings. In addition a community center, an after school program, an arts center, and a t-shirt micro-business all connected the Simple Way were lost in the fire. A full description with video can be found on the Simple Way’s web site: (

For those who are not familiar with Shane Claiborne or the Simple Way, let me provide some background. Over ten years ago a group of Eastern University students got involved with the Kensington Welfare Rights organization during an occupation of an abandoned Roman Catholic cathedral to protest the lack of affordable and available housing for the poor. The students were so changed by the experience that upon graduation they relocated to Kensington to form an intentional Christian community. Their purpose was to live in community with the impoverished people of Kensington, to try to be a positive influence in the neighborhood, and “to discover another way of doing life.” The Simple Way is part a movement called the “new monasticism,” a network of small house churches and groups across the country who have sought to integrate a concern for positive social change, solidarity with the poor, intentional community and classic Christian spirituality. For ten years the Simple Way, who calls it self an “a 501c3 anti-profit organization” have lived and worked in that community.

In Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne tells the story of the Simple Way, and raises some poignant and powerful questions about the nature of our society and the implications of our lifestyles and value choices. I have been challenged by the book and was going to share some of my struggles, but then the fire hit. So I will save those thoughts for another day.

One of the things that impresses me about the new monasticism in general and the Simple Way in particular, is that they are not just another group of liberal Christian do-gooders come to “help the poor.” Claiborne does not talk about “serving the poor” or ‘helping the poor,” but rather about living in interdependent community with the people of Kensington and loving them. He makes the point that poverty is not an abstraction, but rather people with whom one shares life. He says that the tragedy of economic disparity in our country is not merely the maldistribution of wealth, but also that poor people and rich people do not know each other because they literally live in different worlds. If the poor, middle class and rich all lived in proximity, redistribution of wealth would happen more naturally and spontaneously. As he writes:

"I am not a communist or a capitalist. As one person put it: 'When we truly discover love, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.'”

Unfortunately, the risk of living interdependently with poor people in the current economic environment is that one suffers the indignities and vulnerability to tragedy that poor people face every day.

Thus, the Simple Way lost everything in the Kensington fire because they had consciously committed themselves to be part of the fabric of that community, and now that fabric has been severely damaged. Because of its worldwide network of friends and supporters, the Simple Way will be able to generate a great deal of support for the people of Kensington, and will most likely find a way to regroup and start over. Having experienced a similar fire 30 years ago (though not the personal loss) when I was living in Boston, I know that the emotional trauma of such an event is as difficult to overcome for a community as is helping people regain some material and financial stability in their lives. But in time, if they choose to do so, the people of Kensington and the Simple Way will be able to move forward with their lives.

The sad thing is that if it were not for the Simple Way, I and thousands of others would have regarded the Kensington fire as just another tragic and awful event that daily occur in low income communities across the nation and world… and then we would have gone on with our lives because we weren’t affected. Ironically and sadly, the Simple Way’s tragedy has brought home the very point Shane Claiborne makes: that we who are middle and upper class are largely disconnected from those folks who are poor, and do not see or appreciate the humanity of those folks who live in places like Kensington.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Immigration: Solving the Wrong Problem

This week Congress’ attempt at passing a comprehensive immigration bill went down the tubes. The bill was an attempt to find a compromise on an issue that has deeply divided the Congress and the nation. The debate on immigration has focused on two questions: (1) How are we going to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants? And (2) What are we going to do with 12 million undocumented immigrants already here? And yet, even if it had somehow passed, the bill would only have been a short term band-aid at best.

Why? We are not solving the correct problem, or to paraphrase Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “The way we see the problem is the problem.” To date the debate in Congress has characterized the immigration issue as a national issue, but in fact the issue is a regional issue. Until our leaders are willing to engage the business community and the other governments involved in seeking a transnational and just agreement, no reasonable or effective solution can be found.

Nearly a year ago(9/4/2006), David Sirota of the San Francisco Chronicle (among others) asked the pertinent question:

"Why do so many Mexicans come to America in the first place? The answers to this question revolve around the concept of supply and demand – and they tell us about how to address illegal immigration and overcome the core economic challenges facing middle class America.”

Fact: Many Mexican are willing to risk their lives to enter the United States illegally because they are desperate to find a better life. In supply and demand terms, the supply of jobs in Mexico that one can subsist on is far less than the demand for such jobs."

The President, the Congress, and we the American people are failing to address this real issue of why people are coming here: incredible suffering and injustice propagated by NAFTA and opportunistic corporations.

In 1992 the Congress led by Pres. Bill Clinton, passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was designed to allow for the free flow of capital and goods/services across the Canadian, Mexican and U.S. borders. However, the agreement did not allow for was the free flow of labor. In short NAFTA gave the corporations the ability to flow freely across borders without allowing workers to do the same.

NAFTA enabled unscrupulous companies to move their operations from the U.S. to Mexico, thereby avoiding environmental regulations and bypassing workplace safety rules. Moreover, these same companies were able to escape paying U.S. workers living wage and exploit cheap Mexican labor where people would work for $5-7 a day. At the same time U.S. farmers and retailers like Wal-Mart were able to flood Mexican markets with American goods that put local Mexican workers and farmers out of business. Since NAFTA was passed, nearly 800,000 jobs have been lost in Mexico and 1 million jobs in the United States. The winners in this deal have not been the workers, but rather large transnational corporations, large retailers, a well-entrenched Mexican elite and U.S. employers who now exploiting undocumented workers in the U.S. with “under the table” sub-minimum wages. No wonder the U.S. business community likes President Bush’s bill – it serves their interests even as it continues to exploit the working class folks on both sides of the border. (See New York Times 2/18/2007)

The sad truth is that without significant pressure from citizen and labor groups, most leaders in the U.S. and Mexico will not address the real issue. The current situation serves the business community quite fine, thank you. The media and the Congress (who are controlled by business interests) conveniently divert us with the meaningless debates about a 700 mile long border fence and the hiring of more border agents. Vigilante groups spout words of hate in the name of patriotism. Conservative groups and labor unions fight the bill seeking to preserve their special interests and miss the larger picture. And all the time, some very powerful people are profiting handsomely..

Richard Alba, sociology professor from the University of Albany (NY) has pointed out that the U.S. could learn a great deal from the European Union (EU). When the EU countries opened their borders to free trade, they also opened up their borders for workers to travel freely as well. Instead of destroying national economies, it strengthened them, because the EU leaders recognized their challenges were regional rather than national. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has either unconsciously or deliberately failed to learn from the Europeans. (See http://borderbattles/

Instead migrants are characterized as “lawbreakers” and accused of “taking jobs away from Americans,” when the real criminals sit in government buildings and corporate offices. Until we are willing to address the real “illegals” and address the root of the problem, nothing will get accomplished.

Sadly, what I am saying here is neither new nor novel. A simple Google search with the key words “Immigration” and “NAFTA” led me to numerous reputable sources from commentators far more knowledgeable than me. I am reminded of a saying from Harry Nilsson’s classic story “The Point”: “We see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear.” Until we want to address the real problem, we will only see mirages and tilt at windmills.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Don Imus - Duke Lacrosse Connection

(Note: I had orginally planned to post this entry early last week, but delayed due to the Virginia Tech tragedy.- DB)

During the week following Easter two distinct but (in my mind) related announcements were made: CBS announced that Don Imus would no longer be aired on their radio stations and the Attorney General of North Carolina announced that rape charges against three Duke lacrosse players had been dropped. A great deal was made of the Imus case and its relationship to other “shock jock” radio hosts, as well as rappers and liberal commentators who have made equally offensive statements and yet are still on the air. At the same time, the CBS show “60 Minutes” aired extensive interviews with three Duke lacrosse players. However, to my knowledge no commentators noted the serendipitous connection between these two events.

A cynic might say, “Well the white guys came out even. They won one and they lost one.” I think it goes deeper than that. Like many people, I was glad to see Don Imus taken off the air, and I could not help but notice the irony that Don Imus is only one among many commentators who engage in various forms of destructive and degrading speech. One can only wonder how quick MSNBC and CBS would have been to fire Imus if the sponsors had continued to back him. But here is the connection I see to the Duke case: Imus was fired for his sexist and racist remarks and the Duke players got in trouble with the law because they were engaging in sexist and racist behavior.

As a Duke University alum, I closely followed the Duke lacrosse case. Throughout the last year, to my knowledge neither the players nor their parents have publicly commented on the fact that the alleged rape occurred at a party where a bunch of well-to-do white college guys hired a African-American stripper to “perform” at their drunken party. The fact that there was a party and that the young woman was hired to come there has never been disputed. The players and their parents, so intent on proving their innocence, failed to note that there never would have been a rape case if there hadn’t been a party in the first place. These guys may have been victims of politically motivated district attorney, but they were also eager participants in behavior that clearly demeaned and degraded others. As much as they talked about the difficulty of “rebuilding their lives,” they have come out relatively unscathed. One of them is already working on Wall Street, [and the other two are playing lacrosse at other colleges]*. Please forgive me, if the tears aren’t flowing.

*[NOTE: I was in error when I stated the other two players were currently playing lacrosse at other colleges. As the one comment-er said, they have not done so yet. Duke has offered to allow them to return, but they will probably go elsewhere. In all likelihood next year they will be playing for other schools. I stand corrected. D.B.]

After Don Imus was fired, the president of CBS said that the media giant had to “change the culture” that would allow such statements to occur. The culture issue goes much deeper than a few degrading words. The culture issue goes to the fact that the media will use and abuse others when it suits their purpose or makes them money. The culture issue looks at the way the rich can exploit the poor and come away unscathed (What if a black lacrosse team had hired a white stripper; would anyone have cared if players had been unfairly charged?). The culture issue reveals that there are different sets of rules for those who have access to money, power and high priced lawyers, and those who do not.

I for one, am sick of the hypocrisy, and will do what I can (as a well-to-do white guy from Duke) to highlight the fact that racism, sexism and just general human meanness is immoral, unethical and intolerable in any form.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Prayer for the folks at Virginia Tech

Words can not express the sadness I feel for the victims of the shooting rampage that occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16. As a parent of three daughters, I can only think that it could just as easily been one of them. I imagine it will be years before some of the survivors and the victims' families can put this in perspective.I don't know the shooter's name, but his family must be in deep pain as well.

What irks me is the attempt of the media to find someone to blame. Was the school "secure enough?" Did the the shooter's teachers pick up on some trouble in the his life? Did the student's peers notice something was a bit off with the shooter? And why didn't they go to authorities? It is as if in our search for answers, we have to find someone to blame.

Random violence this can not be predicted nor controlled. At the risk of appearing to be fatalistic or overly spiritual, this is the essence of sin. Sin in its most vile expression twists and distorts a personality to perform inhuman acts. Now by bringing up sin, it may appear that I am blaming the shooter, and perhaps I am. But he too may have been a victim of sin's perverted force. He obviously was very troubled young man, and perhaps the victim of some destructive words or actions. When I speak of sin, I speak of that force within human beings and at large in the world, that pulls us in directions away from the way God created us. We were created to reflect God's goodness and love, not destroy other human beings.

Violence of all kinds is and expression of sin, but random violence makes us aware of just how pervasive and pernicious sin can be. One thing we saw and learned from the Nickel Mines tragedy last fall, was the power of a spiritual community to find comfort in God's presence through each other. Moreover, we saw the power of a God-based community to find the resources to forgive, rebuild and move ahead. Now one can rightly assume that in the families of the Nickel Mines victims, there is deep sense of grief and loss that will take years to heal. But they claimed the comfort of God to be real in their lives through their faith in God.

In the face of the VT crisis, we must be called to prayer. While I am not a deeply prayerful person, I do believe that when we pray, we tap into a reservoir of love, peace, and comfort that in the words of the apostle Paul, "surpasses all understanding." In the face of such spiritual forces, I am drawn to prayer, not as a sign of helplessness, but as a call to draw from the wells of God's spirit to face the challenges ahead. I pray for the folks of Virginia Tech. God draw near to them in their time of need, and help them to find solace and strength in the days ahead. And may this tragedy remind us that our work with God in ending violence has only begun.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Hidden Trauma of War

Dear Friends,

I recently was sent this article from the Quaker Economist. It is a personal letter outlining the effects of Post Tramautic Stress Disroder on a society at war. What is particularly poignant is the author's analysis of coded PTSD talk which continues the cycle of war.

I share it with you as yet another reason this war needs to end.

Go to

Drick Boyd

Monday, April 09, 2007

Breaking Ranks

Have you noticed the mantra that being uttered by all parties in the debate about U.S. military involvement in the Middle East? George W. Bush uses it. Nancy Pelosi uses it. So do all the presidential hopefuls from John McCain and Rudy Guiliani to Hillary, Barack, and John Edwards. And when Rosie O’Donnell spoke in favor a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq on her show, “The View,” one of her critics commented that if she wanted to have any credibility with the American people she better use this mantra. What is this sacred cow, this holy utterance, this inviolable commitment to which all true blue Americans must submit (especially if they are politicians or celebrities)? It is those magic words “support the troops.” You can be for or against withdrawal, you can be Democrat, Republican or Independent, you can be politician or celebrity; none of those things matter --- the one thing you must do is “support the troops.”

So it is with trepidation that I write the words: I don’t support the troops. I have not supported the reasons the troops are over in Iraq from the beginning. From the beginning the cloak of democracy and freedom were placed over the real motivation, which was control of the oil fields and the possibility of huge profits for Halliburton, Exxon and other mega-corporations (who by the way were doing quite well as a result of this effort). I don’t support the strategy that says that we can impose democracy on a people whose culture and religious sensibilities are largely undemocratic. I don’t buy the line that somehow by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, these soldiers are “protecting my freedom.” I don’t support the notion that by seeking to get the terrorist there, that we somehow will stop the possibility of their bombing us here. I don’t support the practices of the military recruiters who lure unwitting young people with the myths of a GI bill- supported education, and vocational training while “serving your country.” Nor do I support the decision that those young people make to join the military no matter how misguided or deprived they are in their present situations.

Now that is not to say I wish the soldiers ill. Nor does it mean that I don’t care if they come back alive; I would much rather they come back whole rather than physically or psychologically maimed or in a body bag. Of course I care. Every time I see the young face of another soldier killed in the line of combat, I grieve. However, I can’t say I “support” why they died, nor do I support the decision of their comrades to keep up the fight. Nor, can I buy the line that they “died to preserve our freedom.” They didn’t die for me; I didn’t support their going in the first place. To me their deaths are a waste in a misguided effort led by duplicitous leaders.

The more we talk about “supporting the troops” but not the war, the more we contribute to the doublespeak that confuses and confounds efforts to find a way to peace in that area. Military solutions are not in the cards, and especially military solutions involving the United States. Our presence in the region is a lightening rod for violence and an embarrassment to other countries who might step up and have a hand in bringing some order to Iraq. We went in without global or regional support and that has not changed. George W. thought we could bully our way to democracy and peace, and it has become a quagmire and a disaster. The sooner we get our troops out of there, the better the chances will be for some sort of order to be restored. There are no guarantees, but there is no way as long as the U.S. is there that peace will ever be attained. Supporting the troops’ efforts to do whatever they are doing is a failed policy.

So, I am breaking ranks: I don’t support the troops. I am saying the emperor has no clothes. I am saying supporting this war at any level by “supporting the troops” only contributes to the travesties that have already occurred. Call me crazy, unpatriotic, ungrateful, uninformed, uncaring or whatever negative appellation you can find. I am not contributing the madness any more – I don’t support the troops.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Challenges Facing Whites in a Multicultural World

Recently, I was leading a class discussion on White Privilege. We had been discussing the history of racism and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and I raised the question, “After all that has happened and all that is changed in regard to race relations, where are we today?” To prompt the discussion I assigned the students readings from Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, and Tim Wise’s White Like Me. The excerpt from Obama described the evidences of institutional racism present in a low- income neighborhood of Chicago where he worked as a community organizer. The excerpt from Wise discussed his perception as to how his whiteness afforded him opportunities he otherwise would not have had. As you can imagine these readings prompted a lively discussion.

A common statement made by whites in such conversations is “I haven’t oppressed anyone, so why must I be held accountable?” Almost inevitably in such conversations people tell stories of “reverse discrimination” where white persons were somehow held back or denied an opportunity because persons of color was chosen ahead of them. Additionally, we whites tend to react defensively, because we feel that concepts are simply designed to make us feel guilty and no more. Actually, I don’t think guilt has anything to do with it.

When Peggy McIntosh first wrote her classic piece on white privilege in the 1980’s, for many of us it was an eye opener as to how often we who are white are not aware of how our whiteness opens doors that are closed to others. However, as time goes on, I am increasingly convinced that coming to grips with the implications of White Privilege is not only the right thing to do, but also a necessary thing to do. As the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, and as the world becomes increasingly connected through commerce and technology, white people are going to have adjust to a new reality: we folks who are white can’t call the shots any more. The war on terror, the shift of manufacturing to less developed countries, the immigration debate, the challenge in race relations and so many other issues share a common thread: the world is no longer willing to play by the rules set by people of European descent. And while today’s Europeans and Euro-Americans did not create the current situation, they have inherited it, and must move through a changing paradigm of how to relate to the rest of the world.

Miroslav Volf, a Croatian victim of Serbian violence, has written a powerful book on justice and reconciliation entitled Exclusion and Embrace. In that book he proposes that the way to a more equitable justice for all people is for both victims and oppressors to embrace what he calls “double vision.” He describes the concept this way:

“...we [must] enlarge our thinking by letting the voices and perspectives of others, especially those with whom we may be in conflict, resonate within ourselves, by allowing them to help us see them, as well as ourselves, from their perspective, and if needed, readjust our perspectives as we take into account their perspectives. Nothing can guarantee in advance that the perspectives will ultimately merge and agreement be reached. We may find that we must reject the perspective of the other. Yet we should seek to see things from their perspective in the hope that competing justices may become converging justices and eventually issue in agreement.” (p. 213)

While Volf undergirds this concept from a theological perspective, one need not be a theologian or a religious person to grasp the essence of his proposal. Our perspective is only one perspective, and until we begin to grasp the perspective of the other, and get a glimpse of how the other sees us, understanding and reconciliation are not possible.

In terms of White Privilege, what this means is that we who are white need to accept that how we see ourselves and our position in the world, is not how others see us. We must try to understand the privileges we consider to be “normal,” are the not the norm for others. Furthermore, these privileges are not our rights, but rather luxuries. Given the relative inequity, we then must ask ourselves, "how do we respond?" We need to ask how will we choose to live in a world where we don’t enjoy such privileges? For many white people, this is the frightening, unnerving and uncomfortable challenge facing us as the world becomes more interconnected and our society become increasingly multi-cultural.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

White Privilege and Amazing Grace

I grew up a child of privilege: upper middle class, educated the finest schools, belonging to a healthy loving family, white in a society that discriminated on the basis of skin color. Yet, as I matured and became aware of the advantages afforded me on the basis of my privilege, I came to loathe aspects of that privilege and see it as a burden. For instance, when I was in college and began awakening to the horrors of institutional racism, I remember wishing I had been born black, so that I didn’t have to bear the burden of guilt for the terrible atrocities committed by whites against African-Americans throughout European and U.S. history. In a way that many not born to privilege would find odd, I tried to shed the clothing of that privilege, only to find that it was not removable, that in fact it was literally part of my skin, my bones, and my genes.

I have long admired people such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois, Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu. They are included in my personal “hall of heroes” and inform my social vision and inspire me to act and speak out against in injustice wherever possible. However, there has always been a point of disconnect for me with these folks. Unlike me, these “heroes” have not been people of privilege. I recognize that their courage and sacrifice was infinitely greater than mine could ever be. As people of color they were and have been easy targets for the maintainers of racial status quo to single out, to defame, and in many cases to kill. I have never had to, nor probably ever will have to, live under the threat of such unjust treatment. I have come to realize that as large as these folks are in my personal and social vision, they are not sufficient guides.

Recently, I viewed the film “Amazing Grace,” the story of British politician William Wilberforce and his struggle to abolish slavery in England. At a cost to his friendships, his political capital, and his health, Wilberforce led a small band that was able to overturn the laws of slavery after 20 years of effort. As I watched the movie, I consciously realized something I had tacitly embraced long ago: that Wilberforce (another one of my heroes) represented a different kind of guide for me. Like me, Wilberforce was a person of privilege, and yet in a paraphrase of the apostle Paul “did not count [that privilege] something to be grasped, but emptied himself and became a servant.”(Philippians 2.6)

Thinking of Wilberforce reminded me of so many other folks who were/are people of privilege who in their limited way have sought to undo the very systems that gave them their privilege. People such as the following:
- John Woolman, a Quaker in the 18the century who traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard, personally convincing Quakers to free their slaves.
- The unnamed whites living near the Mason-Dixon line who served as stops along the Underground Railroad
- Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist journalist in Alton, IL beaten to death by an angry mob for outspoken stance on slavery.
- Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Catholic intellectuals who founded the Catholic Worker movement serving the urban poor.
- Clarence Jordan, a man with two PhD’s (in agricultural and Biblical Greek), who in the 1950’s and 60’s built Koinonia Farms, an interracial community in segregationist Georgia.

All of these, like Wilberforce were people who used the benefits of their wealth, position and education to work for justice. My guess is that none of them would equate their sacrifice or courage to those people of color whom they allied themselves. Yet, they are examples for those who are from the privileged set of how to respond.

While the movie makes it appear that Wilberforce’s social vision was always clear, I tend to believe that his clarity was more Hollywood than truth. One of the things I continually reach to attain is a clarity of social vision. I am often reminded by people of color that while my heart may be in the right place, that I don’t fully “get it.” That’s why concerned people of privilege and courageous folks of color must be in constant dialogue and partnership. Folks of privilege can never consider the work of justice to be completed as long as the victims of injustice claim that racism and oppression still exist. As a result my vision is continually being refined, seemingly unfolding more clearly as I work more faithfully toward it. I “see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13), and need others to bring clarity to what needs to be done.

Another one of my heroes is my mother, who in her own way sought to use her privilege to bring about change. Through her involvement with an organization called A Better Chance (ABC) she brought students of poverty and color into our upper middle class home and community. She thought justice and equity could be achieved by giving aspiring students from poor urban school districts a chance at a decent education could bring about change in society. While I never said this to her directly, I was inwardly critical of her shortsightedness in not seeing that simply helping individuals did not change a system that benefited a few to the disadvantage of the many. Even so, I admired her persistence, commitment and courage to use her upper middle class status to benefit others. At the same time I have come to accept that I am similarly shortsighted, and that as a person of privilege, I must continually unpack the ways my background has blinded me to the injustice built into our system. I have come to see my mother as yet another hero, like Wilberforce and the others, who seek to use their privilege to dismantle the system that creates that privilege. Their examples are truly a form of “Amazing Grace” that keeps me going, and provides me guidance.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Experiencing White Privilege

In her classic paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack”, Peggy McIntosh points out that “whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege.” She says, as a result, whites grow up unaware of with the basic privileges in North American society that come to them with their skin color. This privilege is invisible to whites, but glaringly evident to people of color. McIntosh goes on to offer 50 examples of privileges granted to whites, not granted to people of color. Furthermore, as she points out, with this privilege comes the power to set the intellectual, emotional and social agenda in any given setting.

In the last few years, I have sought to be more consciously aware of the privilege granted to me by society as a white, educated, middle class male. This awareness has caused me to experience myself in some discomforting ways. Recently, there was one situation, where my tendency toward privilege snuck up on me and I did not see it coming.

Recently, I have been participating in an interracial group exploring the topic, “Bridging the Gaps of Race and Class.” At our initial meeting, the organizers of the group indicated that they assumed that all the participants “had passed Racism 101” and understood concepts such as internalized oppression, institutional racism and white privilege. As we introduced ourselves to the group, we were invited to share a challenge we had faced in bridging the race and class gap. When my turn came, I shared that when I am new in a gathering where I am a racial minority among a group of people of color, I often get vibes of distrust from others in the group. My sense is that people are suspicious of my presence and my motives for being there as a white male.

Because I assumed in our group that everyone understood that I had “passed Racism 101,” I didn’t feel a need to explain that I understood that the distrust was part of a historical reaction to a pattern of white domination. I did not state that when I am in such settings, I accept that I must earn the respect of others. In making that statement, I was not being critical, but rather making what I considered to be an honest description of my experience. I also assumed that everyone would accept my statement at face value.

However, I was sorely mistaken. Later when the group broke into separate caucuses of white and black, I learned that some of the African-American participants as well as some of the whites, were quite upset by my comment. I in turn felt hurt and later angry about their reaction. I stewed on the incident for days. In subsequent meetings, my discomfort was magnified by one particular African-American woman who seemed very reluctant to speak with me, and at least one white person who seemed bent on setting me straight. In the subsequent weeks, as I participated by offering what I thought were valuable contributions, I have felt like I was digging myself into a deeper and deeper hole. My internal l response has been to say, “You asked a question, I gave an answer; why can’t you accept that?”

And then it hit me: this is what people of color experience on a daily basis. They think they are “playing by the rules” and then all of a sudden the rules change. As a white male I have been accustomed to making the rules of discourse and then making sure they are followed. I have been raised to assume that when I make a statement in apparent good faith, that statement is accepted at face value. I don’t assume that I will have to that there was not some hidden message or implication in what I said. Furthermore, I don’t assume that I will be regarded with suspicion once I have made my case. Finally, I don’t assume that by “being myself” I will sink into deeper and deeper sense of alienation. What I have come to realize is that in this small incident, I have experienced my white privilege in a way that doesn’t give me an easy out. More than that I have come to realize that because the rules of discourse are often skewed in my favor, I have not developed any resources to react to a persistent questioning of my integrity.

Yet this is what most, if not all, people of color face in our society. I have come to a new appreciation for the pernicious effect racism has on our identity, our assumptions, and our ability to communicate effectively. I am thankful for this group as uncomfortable as it has been, and I am thankful for colleagues and friends who are willing to be honest and set me straight. I have no illusions; I will stumble and stick my foot in my mouth again. I probably won’t even know at first that I have done so. White male privilege for all its benefits, has not prepared me to live in an increasingly multicultural society.

As I look at my children and white friends and colleagues, I think one of the major challenges we face in the next ten years is how to live in a society where we don’t have privilege. To people of color that seems like justice (and it is), but for many whites, including me, it is an uphill climb. We who are white have not been given the cognitive or emotional tools to live in a world that is not white-oriented. In some ways are friends of color can help us, but that is not their job. In most cases we need to make our own way. I am committed to keep on learning about how my white male privilege has crippled me for the world that is here and coming, and I am dedicated to sharing any insights I have had.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More on Violence in the Bible

Since writing my entry on “Biblical Language and Life as a Battle” over a month ago, I have taken time to read and study more about the place of violence in the Bible. In this study I have come across some good sources such as Does the Bible Justify Violence by John J.Collins, Is Religion Killing Us by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, and Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer. I also went back and reread portions of John H. Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus and articles by Richard Horsley on the political milieu of the New Testament era. These are only a small sampling of books on this important topic.

What all these authors affirm conclusively is that the "violence of God" theme is part and parcel to the Old and New Testaments. In his classic work The Nature and Destiny of Man, Reinhold Neibuhr drove home that human beings are a paradox in that we are inherently self-centered and sinful, while still having the capacity to transcend that self-interest in works of peace, justice and love. However, when Niebuhr looked at institutions and nation-states, he said that by design all organized groups are be self-oriented and tend toward polarization and violence. The need for group self-preservation moves the group or nation-state seek its own survival at the expense of others.

This insight helps us understand why even in the Scriptures we find an inherent tendency to divide people into “us” and “them.” Whether talking about the Jews in the Old Testament or the followers of Jesus in the New Testament, inevitably the stories are written from the standpoint that “God is with us and those other folks are against us.” By extension anyone who is against “us” is therefore against God. This dichotomy of “us” and “them” leads to justifiable violence on the part of “us.” So the Jews see God working on their behalf in escaping the Egyptians, conquering the Canaanites and dealing with the various nations that threatened their existence. Likewise, in the New Testament, the followers of Jesus who felt persecuted by the Jewish and Roman authorities believed that in the end God punish would punish “them” as a form of vindication.

Violence is woven throughout human history, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer identifies a five stage spiral of violence that can not only be found in the Bible, but also in all of history.
Violence 1 – An oppressed group experience the economic and political violence in the form of domination, hunger and injustice
Violence 2- The oppressed group rebels countering violence with violence.
Violence 3 – The state responds with repressive violence to quell the disturbance. Or, the oppressed groups gain power and uses repressive measures against their former oppressors.
Violence 4 – There is a dysfunctional deflective violence in which oppressed person do violence against one another – poor on poor violence.
Violence 5 – Violence of all sorts is justified and rationalized by attributing the violence and its result to God. Violence is not only physical, it is now deeply spiritual.

This natural human tendency to return violence with violence and attribute at least some of it to God is found not only in Christianity and Judaism, but as Juergensmeyer points out, in all major religions of the world.

Having said this, what do we do? Some would say that religion itself is the problem and so we just need to get rid of religion. This is Sam Harris’ solution in The End of Faith. While it is true that religion is at the root of much of the world’s violence, religion is also responsible for much of the world’s good, such as schools, hospitals, development projects and community. Getting rid of religion won’t change the human tendency toward self-interest and domination. Such a solution is na├»ve, and betrays a skewed view of religion.

Some like Nelson-Pallmeyer believe that we need to give up the notion that the Bible is some sort of “sacred text,” and recognize it for what it is – a human document with human prejudices and biases written into it. His rationale goes something like this: Since the authority of the Bible (as well as other so-called “sacred texts” like the Quran) are used to justify violence, we need to respond by rejecting the authority of these "sacred texts." This then makes it possible for us to excise those parts of the "sacred text" that run against our modern sensibilities and then religiously-inspired violence can be eliminated. He goes so far as to say that Violence is the true god of the Bible. By removing the authority of God in Scripture, we dethrone the sacred god, Violence.

I think Nelson-Pallmeyer goes too far to say that Violence is the God of the Bible. Moreover, I think he goes too far in saying that we should reject the Bible’s authority outright. What people like Nelson-Pallmeyer want is a god who fits their sensibilities, that feels comfortable, and accommodates their politics. While attractive, such an approach seems to miss the point that God is the ultimate Guide in life, and perhaps some humilityon our part is in order.

However, I am caused to ask several probing questions: Is there not a way one can doubt portions of the Bible without a full rejection of Scripture as reflecting the word of God? Is there not a kind of doubt and challenge to the Bible that respects rather than rejects its authority? Is it not true that the Bible itself has questioned the justification of violence in the first place?

I know that last question is true for me, I challenge the “violence-of-God tradition” because of people like Clarence Jordan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi, who saw in Jesus a model of nonviolence and a model of the nonviolent life. I can accept that human biases and tendencies have found their way into the Bible stories without rejecting the overall authority of the Bible. It is a respect for the Biblical story of Jesus that moves me to question the “violence-of-God” images found elsewhere. In that sense the Bible questions itself and corrects itself.

Furthermore, running alongside the violence-of-God tradition is the tradition of the Suffering Servant found in many passages, such as Isaiah 53, Mark 10.45 and Philippians 2.5-11. In those passages Jesus offers a model of life that counters violence with a willingness to suffer. I think of Martin Luther King who said to his adversaries, “Our capacity to endure suffering will match your ability to inflict it.” In his words and example of Jesus showed that not only are Christians called to reject violence, but they also are called to embrace a way of sacrifice and suffering. Suffering overcomes the violence – in essence this is the message of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The message that needs to go out in this time of war is not that God will vindicate us with divine violence, but rather that God calls us to serve through redemptive suffering. What that means is both vague and frightening, and worthy of more thought and a lot more action. When I think of groups like Witness for Peace, Doctors Without Borders, and Christian Peacemakers, I see examples of people extending themselves to the point of suffering to say “no” to violence.

I cannot reconcile myself to the violence I find in Scripture. I am still troubled by battle language and divinely sanctioned violence that I find there. But in Jesus I see another theme emerging that unmasks and disarms violence through the power of redemptive love and suffering. Concretely, what does that mean for me, for us? I am still exploring.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Joining the School for Social Change

A long awaited dream has finally come true. This summer I will be transferring from Eastern University’s School of Management Studies to the School for Social Change (SSC). Every since SSC opened nearly nine years ago, I have wanted to be part of their mission. This past fall I was invited to join the faculty there and gladly accepted. After several months of negotiation, the logistical details have been worked out. This summer my office will move from Valley Forge, where I have been for several years to Eastern’s Philadelphia campus.

I will be splitting my time between three programs in SSC. First, I will be joining the Masters in Urban Studies program. Currently, I am teaching a Leadership Development course in that program, and having a great time. I hope to also will teach courses in urban theology and Race and Ethnic Relations.

Second, I will be teaching in the newest program “Eastern in the City”, an undergraduate program specifically targeting urban students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to attend a Christian college. Students earn a two year Associates of Arts degree, which they can then transfer to Eastern or any other four year college. This past fall I taught the introductory first year course, “Introduction to Faith, Reason and Justice,” and next fall will also teach a course on social justice.

The third program involves an outreach to urban pastors and community leaders who are seeking to develop skills in the areas of organizational management, community outreach and economic development. Faculty from Palmer Theological Seminary, the School of Leadership Development, and SSC are combining efforts and expertise. Here I hope to contribute my insights from community based education and adult learning. This effort is still in the process of being formulated, but holds great promise.

In my limited involvement with SSC to date, I have found the students to be engaging and the faculty and staff very supportive. There is a strong commitment to the city, and to providing innovative education that reflects the urban environment we seek to serve. While connected to Eastern’s main campus in terms of the overall mission, SSC brings a fresh approach to education that seeks to transform the lives of students, as well as the city.

Joining the folks of SSC in many ways brings together many of my long time passions. Ever since my days as a pastor, I have had a special concern for the people of the city and the challenges they face. Part of my own journey has been coming to grips with the great advantages I have enjoyed in life and desire to give back to others. Inmy studies of adult education I have focused in the area of popular education, or what I have come to called community based adult education, which focuses on ways of bringing folks together to identify and address the problems they are facing in their community.

While I bring expertise in the areas of leadership, social justice, interracial issues and faculty development, I expect I will grow in ways I have yet to imagine. The faculty and staff of SSC are seasoned urban practitioners, and I expect to learn a lot from them. Upon graduation from college, my first job was as an urban youthworker in Boston, MA. Thereafter, I pastured in two urban churches, after moving to churches outside the city, and teaching in adult higher education. In coming to SSC, I have come full circle, and it feels like coming home.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Stop The Idiocy

Early on the morning of Saturday, January 27th, four of us (Cynthia, Phoebe & Drick Boyd, and Laura Rosenberger) loaded into our car for Washington, DC to join nearly 100,000 like-minded folks on the National Mall in front of the Capitol Building. Our purpose was to urge our government, particularly our Congresspersons, to use their power to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, and to oppose President’s Bush’s plan to send a “surge” of 21,000 more soldiers to that embattled country.

One could not have asked for a nicer January day for such an event. The sun was shining and the temperature was pleasant. But more than the weather, the spirit of the rally was positive and upbeat. There were drummers, and jugglers and people with all kinds of costumes and signs. Speakers representing all sorts of organizations from anti-war groups like Code Pink and United for Peace and Justice, to military vets and families of current and past soldiers, to well known celebrities and politicians praised us for our presence and exhorted us to chants, cheers and songs. I was particularly struck by the diversity of age and race in the crowd. This was not just a young person’s or an older person's or a white person's or a black person’s march; it was a march that represented the diverse demographic that is the United States.

What brought me there was a strong sense that our policies toward Iraq would only deepen the crisis that already exists there. Someone once wrote that idiocy is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. By that definition President Bush’s Iraq policy is idiocy. I am neither pro-war nor pro-military, but when patriotic types and military personnel question the wisdom of the Bush policy, and. when a group of seasoned diplomats like the Baker-Hamilton Commission counsel a different approach, one can be assured that the current approach is idiocy.

I am no expert on Mideast policy or of the Arab-Muslim mindset. Yet, it is apparent that our presence in Iraq only enflames an already explosive situation. The leaders of Iraq must be forced to end the hostilities between their competing factions. While U.S. personnel are being injured and killed, even more so the Iraqi people are suffering in the current violence. Iraq’s neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Syria and Turkey, as well Muslim states like Egypt and Algeria, must use their influence to end the hostilities. U.S. diplomatic efforts should center on engaging these nations in working with the Iraq government to find a path for peace.

U.S. policy has led to massive death and violence. Adding soldiers and firepower to the current situation will only add to the death toll and increase the violence. The idiocy of the Bush policy is that it seeks to do more of the same, vainly hoping for a different result. What is needed is not more troops, but a different approach.

As one who thinks of himself as a Christian peacemaker, my prayer and hope is that a Muslim peace movement might arise not only in the U.S. but more importantly across the Mideast. Missing from Saturday’s demonstration was a strong Muslim presence. While most people see the “war on terror” as a battle of Arabs against the United States, in a very real sense it is an intra-Muslim conflict. By this I don’t mean to suggest that U.S. actions haven’t contributed greatly to the problem, because indeed they have. What I mean is that if groups such as al-Quaeda don’t represent mainstream Muslim thinking, then Muslims must silence them. If the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq is out of control, them cooler, wiser Muslim heads must prevail. Muslims who yearn for peace must take center stage.

For too long the powers of the world, starting with the U.S., have resorted to war and violence and criticized efforts of diplomacy and peacemaking as “unrealistic.” From where I sit, war in Iraq has done a pretty lousy job of saving lives and increasing security. Furthermore, the weapons of war are too dangerous to be used judiciously. War has been tried and been found wanting; its time for peacemakers to stand between the warring factions and say “enough is enough.” I would hope that as peacemakers across the globe and across the religious spectrum, we could raise up an army of reconciliation. Now that would be a rally that could stop the idiocy!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Biblical Language and Life as a Battle: Some Thoughts

I have been a committed pacifist for much of my adult life. Recently, I have come to realize that peacemaking is not only about opposing war; it also involves conceiving of life in a different way. In this quest for peacemaking at a deeper level, I have looked to the Bible for guidance. However, I am troubled by the violence and battle language I find there.

My pacifism has largely arisen out of my study of the Bible and church history. As a Baptist pastor in the early 1990’s, I spoke out publicly against the first Gulf War. I received a great deal of criticism from people both inside and outside the church for that stand. This criticism prompted me to engage in an extensive study of peace theology in the Bible and early church history. I came out of that study convinced that when one used the life and ministry of Jesus as the starting point, the Bible supported a pacifist position. Furthermore, it was clear from a study of early church history that for the first 300 years of their existence, Christians were largely non-violent and opposed to participation in military service.

However, when we look at the Bible as a whole, and not just at Jesus, we see that God is often portrayed in militaristic and violent terms. Exodus 15.3 proclaims “God is a warrior.” The Old Testament is full of stories where God leads people into battle to defeat the enemies of the Jews. Furthermore, God is often depicted as commanding people to completely destroy their enemies, their houses and their livestock in accordance with the Hebrew concept of “the ban” (see Numbers 21.1-3; Deuteronomy 20, Joshua 7-8). To my mind “the ban” is not much different than the Islamic idea of “jihad” or “holy war.” Now granted, God often won those battles in unconventional ways like having Gideon only take soldiers who drank water a certain way (Judges 7) or Moses holding up his arms (Exodus 17), or Joshua walking around the city of Jericho seven times (Joshua 6). At other times angels appeared and scared off the enemies of the Jews. Even so, Yahweh is portrayed as a warrior God who vanquishes the enemies of his people.

Furthermore, when Jesus was recognized as the Messiah, one of the disconcerting things about him to the Jews of his time is that he was not a conquering king. Jewish tradition had prepared them to expect a warrior Messiah and Jesus did not fit that role. Even so, it appears that Jesus did not erase the image of a warrior king, he only postponed it. For in his vision of the Second Coming, John depicts the apocalyptic Christ as a mighty warrior who comes to slay the enemies of God (see Revelation 19.11-21). “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32. 35; Romans 12.19). Believers get their retribution, just a little later

Moreover, the spiritual life itself is often described using military and battle imagery. In Psalm 80.1 God is invoked to do battle with the enemy:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel…
Awaken your might and come and save us

Psalm 137.9 calls on God to seize the infants of the Babylonians and “dash them against the rocks.”

Paul explicitly calls on this battle imagery in Ephesians 6 when he says

Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the devil’s schemes (vss. 10-11).

Furthermore, Paul refers to the spiritual life as a battle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil” (vs. 12).
Now certainly there are other images of God found in Scripture (Redeemer, Savior, Midwife, Shelter), but one can not deny how often God is associated with violence and battle.

Philosophers of language have pointed out that the words people use reflect their thought forms, and in turn those thought forms profoundly influence the paradigms or cognitive lens through which they interpret events in the world. The Biblical writers lived in a violent time and were under constant physical threat from foreign armies. Furthermore, some of their own leaders were ruthless military leaders. They drew on imagery and language that was familiar to them: the imagery of battle. By extension the Bible profoundly influences the words most Christians use and the ways they think about their lives in the world. The preponderance of biblical violence and battle imagery can not help but cause Christians to see their lives in terms of a battle against temptation, against evil, and against those who oppose or obstruct the things of God.

In the introduction to Terror in the Mind of God (a study of religiously-based terrorism), sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer asks “Why does religion seem to need violence and violence religion, and why is a divine mandate for destruction accepted with such certainty by some believers?” (p. 7). While it is a large leap from reading the Bible to someone like Timothy McVeigh bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in part the answer to that question lies in the battle mindset embedded in the Scriptural narrative. We are set up for violence by the underlying polarities in the Scripture. Increasingly, I struggle with the tension between my convictions for peace-making (which is Jesus –centered and Biblically based) and the violence and battle mentality so prevalent in the Bible.

Parker Palmer suggests that we reconceptualize the spiritual life as a journey rather than a battle. His comment underscores the important point that all language about God is at best metaphorical and symbolic. People use images and words familiar to them to describe a Presence and a Spirit they can not literally see or touch. The language we use does not describe the reality of God as much as it helps us talk intelligently about transcendent realities beyond our full comprehension. Perhaps as Palmer suggests we need to embrace other biblical imagery for the spiritual life other than life as a battle, weaning at the breast of a nursing mother (Psalm 131)or as a process of growth from seed to plant (Mark 4.1-20).

At this point I have more questions than answers, because I find myself confused and troubled by the fact that I worship and serve a God who seems to be so violent. Collins concludes his study of Biblical violence by suggesting that the Biblical depictions of violence give “an unvarnished picture of human nature of the dynamics of history” (p. 31). I seek to live a life of peacemaking that does not ignore that unvarnished picture of human nature. We live in a violent world. I believe that realistic pacifism must engage that world in part by helping people see themselves and others in new ways. That’s why the issue of language and mindset concerns me so deeply.