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Faith and Public Policy: A Week Later

By | Faith and Public Policy 2017 WDC | No Comments

It has been a week since we came back from Washington DC. I was exhausted and inspired. I have spent the last week catching up at home and resting, but mostly just processing all that I learned and all that confronted me during our immersion. It was intense! When we were there, I felt caught up in the energy of the city, and the call to action. Now that I am home, I am facing a challenge. The fierceness of the movement, and the urgency of the moment seem farther away. I want to stay engaged.

Today I am working on my final project for the course. As I immerse myself again in the materials and in my notes, I am stirred afresh, but the task of overcoming systemic oppression is so immense. There seems to be no justice. I struggle with despair. Even so, I have been resisting my whole life, and I cannot stop now. A scripture comes to mind from Amos 5:21-24. It is one of my favorites:

“I hate all your show and pretense—
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.”

So, as I reflect on the inscription on the Supreme Court Building, and the hypocrisy of it all, I know that I am called like it says in Isaiah 1:17 to “learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” and work for all of our liberation.

I consider, as several of our speakers said, that I must focus. I know that it is God’s way to give each person a part to play, and when we all do our part, we accomplish great things together. But, I cannot choose one issue. For me, it would be like choosing one of my children to live while letting the others die. I cannot see a way to disentangle one thing from another, when we are all tied up in this together. I conclude, for now, that this will be my focus; that my voice is meant to lift up the confluence and inseparability of all matters of justice and of all people’s liberation.

This immersion has awakened me to possibility. I am so thankful. I know that I cannot relegate the experience to that week in May 2017, because the experience is diffused in my being. Now, the task is to understand how to embody it. How do I live out the truth that this immersion has made me know? Honestly, I do not know the answer to that question yet. I have shared information with my congregation, and will continue to do so. I will continue in conversation with some of the people who are on the ground in Washington. I will reconnect with the people who are on the ground here that I have drifted from. I will sit with the materials and the blog and my notes. It will take some time to assimilate all that was given me in this immersion. I trust Spirit to bring it to fruition as I go along. As I continue to be attentive, I will become the part I am meant to be. I am glad we are on this journey together, and I look forward to what God will do.

If You Love Me

By | Faith and Public Policy 2017 WDC, Uncategorized | No Comments

If You Love Me

If you love me, please tell me why I am homeless, hungry, naked, and tattered in the streets?

If you love me, why do you promote policy which denies me healthcare or the medications which support my life?

If you love me, why do you single out the black and brown bodies of America and warehouse them in your for-profit prisons.

If you love me and I am your kindred, why have you left my country a war-torn mess?

If you love me, why have I been sentenced for a crime I did not commit?

If you love me, why have you torn my family apart in the name of immigration reform?

America. Was it not you that said all men are created equal?

America. Do you love me?

Intersections

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The intersections are where life gets interesting. This immersion is at the intersection of faith and public policy. Since the 1980s, the loudest faith voice in the public/political arena has been the religious right. There are good people in that huge camp, but the leadership has used fear to push for conservative policies that keep control in the hands of the dominant class, while convincing those outside the dominant class that these policies are good for them. And so we get the image of all those powerful white male legislators making decisions about health care that affect the non-powerful, non-white, and non-male citizens of this country without taking our needs into account. This way of creating public policy rejects the intersections in our culture.

There is another way, a way that recognizes that there are a lot more people and ideologies at the table. A way that acknowledges and welcomes and explores the intersections, because that is where we really live.

Everywhere I go in Washington, I am at those intersections. At All Souls Unitarian last Sunday morning, the minister said, “We mortals are the fellowship of the brokenhearted.” It is through sorrow and suffering that we are able to empathize with the suffering of others and to use our collective, brokenhearted power, our faith and our humanity, to stand up against racism wherever we see it.

Last weekend, I saw a production of HIR by Taylor Mac. In this play, gender expression, gender roles, and family roles intersect in both empowering and destabilizing ways. Although I laughed a lot at some very funny moments, I was left with an awareness of the necessary losses people often feel when paradigm shifts occur. Our willingness to navigate and participate in the shifts – rather than being unwilling “victims” – will make the process more rapid and smooth.

I reached another intersection on Saturday night, when I attended a play called Sioux Falls at 10th Muse Productions. This play by Megan Dominy is about abortion –the unique, personal circumstances that lead three women to seek abortions and the hurdles they face to get services they have a legal right to. In South Dakota, where there is only one clinic that offers abortion services, roadblocks to abortion include requirements for a sonogram and mandatory counseling at least 72 hours prior to getting the abortion. An underlying tenet of the play is that reproductive health options including abortion should be available to all. Instead, reproductive health services lie at the intersection of personal healthcare, politics, and religion. Surprisingly, women’s lived experiences at the crossroad are typically ignored.

I stumbled upon the Memorial Day observations at the U.S. Navy Memorial. The event included a color guard, a fine military band, a speech by a 95-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, and the playing of Taps. It was beautiful and patriotic and made me weep. Yet as I left the memorial, I looked around for who was not represented at this intersection of national pride with national shame. And I found myself hearing Langston Hughes’ words in my head:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

 

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

When we live in the intersections, me must acknowledge our own intersections and context as well as the intersections and context that others live in. This acknowledgement takes vulnerability, willing destruction of our preconceived notions, and opening to the unknown and uncomfortable. The intersections are where Beloved Community can truly happen. That’s where we find Grace. As Sharon Welch writes in A Feminist Ethic of Risk, grace is a deep and holy love for others that “lifts us to a larger self…as it leads us to accept blame and begin the long process of reparation and re-creation.” Let us live into the intersections, in full recognition and with the full participation of all those who meet there. That is where we can truly love our neighbor as ourselves. That is where we can form a just and equitable society – a Grace-filled Beloved Community that is heaven on earth.

“What You Do For The Least Of Mine You Also Do For Me” Matthew 25:40

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Young MLK Jr.

I cannot adequately describe how wonderful and all-encompassing my trip to Washington, DC, has been.  Since this immersion class is called Faith & Public Policy, I will begin this blog by focusing on the faith or religious component.  I believe that faith and compassion are both necessary to perform the exhausting yet rewarding work of influencing public policy through direct social justice advocacy and community organizing on the local, state, and federal levels of government.  I further believe that the work that we as men and women, who are pastors, teachers, chaplains and other religious leaders execute, on behalf of the most marginalized among us, is God ordained.  In the Gospel of Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus reminds us:

35/ For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36/ naked, and you clothed Me’; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 37/ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give you something to drink?  38/And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?’ 39/When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  40/ The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Winford in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I saw first-hand how this portion of sacred scripture was fulfilled in myriad ways through the work of committed public servants such as Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, who are the senior and junior Senators from the great state of California.  Members of our class had the opportunity to meet with the staff persons who work for both Senators.  Senator Feinstein’s Legislative Fellow, Dr. Pete Curran spent a considerable amount of time with our group.  We were able to ask him to communicate our concerns regarding the current state of the Affordable Care Act as well as issues revolving around criminal justice reform and immigration.  Dr. Curran listened attentively and promised to share with Senator Feinstein what was discussed in our meeting and would also thank her on our behalf, for her many years, of public service.  He also shared with us a newsletter from the Senator that highlighted the following accomplishments:

  • Senator Feinstein introduced a bill to shield farmworkers from deportation (5-3-17) which stated “Despite their significant contributions to California’s economy and communities, farmworkers are now a priority for deportation under this administration’s (Donald Trump) shameful policies.  We simply must protect the families who help put food on our tables.”
  • Senator Feinstein and colleagues introduced a LGBT non -discrimination bill (5/17)

The equality Act of 2017 would ensure full federal non-discrimination equality by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to other protected classes, such as race or religion, in existing federal laws.  The bill would explicitly ban discrimination in a host of areas, including employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, access to credit, and federal funding.

In addition to the work of legislators from California, I was also introduced to the work of a group called ‘Network Advocates for Justice Inspired by Catholic Sisters.’ NETWORK, mentioned that their social justice advocacy group, was appalled by the budget that was recently submitted to Congress by Donald Trump, which highlighted draconian cuts in many social and safety net programs, as well as a 31% cut in federal funds to the Environmental Protection Agency.  “NETWORK, believes the federal budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities of our nation.  Our budget must prioritize human needs programs, ensure funding for vulnerable members of our society, restore economic opportunity, and invest in community.”  The work of Senator Feinstein and NETWORK/Catholic Sisters represents the personification of faith and public policy in action.

My faith in God, and the teachings of Jesus Christ, as the prime example for faith in action, is what influences and motivates me, to want to do everything in my power to help empower the most vulnerable people in our society.  I was glad to see so many social justice advocacy groups collectively working non-stop in our nation’s capital and beyond for the common good of humanity.

Our Immersion cohort visiting NPR with journalist Tamara Keith

A Few Scattered Thoughts

By | Faith and Public Policy 2017 WDC, Uncategorized | No Comments

I am finding this whole immersion experience impossible to summarize so I will note my scattered impressions without asking them to cohere for now. 

Even while I’m emotionally engaged in the efforts of our guest speakers and even as I feel moved as we locate the myriad injustices embedded in our system, I feel a resistance in myself to go along with it all.  I am disturbed that we characterize our group’s policy positions as “non-partisan”.  Is it possible to still retain our prophetic quality, speaking truth to power, while accepting that we are working with only our piece of the truth?  Is it conceivable that the sides we are opposing possess the other pieces?  I keep reciting to myself, Preferential Option for the Poor, Preferential Option for the Poor…   

In one of the downstairs exhibits at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, there was a small sack with a story embroidered on the fabric.  It was an account of an enslaved girl who was sold at the age of nine, separated from her family.  Her mother gave her this sack with three handfuls of pecans, a dress, and a lock of her hair in it.  They never saw each other again.  I was profoundly grieved by this raggedy object.  My head is still spinning.

On our first full day in DC, I took a picture of the Capitol Building.  Somehow, the photo I took made the formidable structure look like a tiered wedding cake with a domed centerpiece on top.  On closer inspection, on top of the dome is a figure called the Statue of Freedom, a female figure wearing a military helmet, which was cast by Philip Reid, a slave.  This style of irony comprises the base layer of our American myth.  What is more, my wedding cake photo revealed to me the degree to which hierarchy, with its distinctly Christian character in Western society, informs how we organize ourselves.  It is the scheme by which we order power.  We sacralize the thing on top, which in this case is Freedom.  The abstract ideal is endlessly admirable and the reality of how the physical statue came into being is endlessly offensive.  The tension stirs in me, keeps me awake.

I am so energized by the beauty of the buildings and the trees as I walk to the United Methodist building every morning.  Especially the trees—I feel that they are all talking to me, giving me courage.  On Monday, I spent most of the afternoon at the National Gallery, sitting and resting in the midst of art.  

I am so proud of our group and how amazingly we are working together to keep one another going.  The patience and warmth of some among us, even when things suck, I will remember and aspire to forever.