BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's Refugee Ban

Image result for jewish refugees on boatOn January 27, 1945, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated from Nazi control. This is why we honor that date. We remember, because we promised to "never forget." We promised to never forget how hatred, xenophobia, and religious fear led to millions of deaths. We promised to never forget how own own fear let us turn blind eye to a crisis situation.

Image result for syrian refugees on boatWe promised to never forget our own role in denying refuge. How the USA rejected legislation to admit 20,000 Jewish refugees. How we refused to help the nearly 1,000 on the St. Louis liner that made it to our shores, saying they must "await their turn" (see the chilling @Stl_Manifest memorial). How we acted out of fear instead of out of compassion.

On January 27, 2017, the 45th US president callously signed his Executive Order "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." It's rules would not have impacted the 9/11 attackers, nor the San Bernardino shooters, nor the Orlando night club shooter, nor the Boston marathon bombers. And certainly not the terrorists Dylan Roof, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Charles Roberts, Michael McLendon, Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold.

Image result for holocaust refugees turned away political cartoonWho will be impacted?
The nearly 200 legally-entering travelers that were detained in airports, having taken off before the order was signed. The estimated 13,000 Syrian refugees who had hoped find refuge in 2017. The 60,000 refugees from anywhere that are now no longer allowed to enter the USA due to a reduced cap. The 84,000 people with legal visas from the seven banned countries that are now no longer allowed to travel. And potentially hundreds of thousands of green card holders, who have overcome tremendous screenings and hurdles to make the United States their permanent home.

Each of these numbers represent people, families, jobs, communities. It also means loss of revenue, national productivity, scholarship. With the order potentially impinging upon over 100 employees of Google, the company recalled all of its affected traveling personnel to the US. Microsoft warned its shareholders of the  potential financial impact. The order was condemned by 20 Nobel laureates, and thousands of academics.

This ban targets the absolute most vulnerable of our world (ahem, "the least of these"). In Syria, over 450,000 have died, and another 11 million have been displaced. And those numbers continue to grow. We are in the middle of a crisis. It rivals other infamous international tragedies like the Sudanese Civil War and the Rwandan Genocide. We have a chance to learn from our regrets over these events. Will we?

Generally, I dismiss Hitler comparisons. They're typically alarmist and exaggerated. And yet as I listen to the rhetoric, as I watch the news, the parallels are striking. True we have not reached the proportions, but why would we wait until it reaches that point to sound the alarm? Why hold our compassion until after we learn the full extent of the damage, as seems to be our habit.

Image result for holocaust refugees turned away political cartoonSomali-British poet Warsan Shire, describes it well:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
(read the full poem here)

Image result for political cartoon boat "where are you from?" earth

Scripture tells us that "when a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself" (Leviticus 19:33-34). And we are warned "I will be swift... against those who thrust aside the sojourners, and do not fear me" (Malachi 3:5)

While it's been stated more than once on this blog, it bears repeating: our faith is founded on the shoulders of refugees immigrating to strange lands. As a teenager, Joseph narrowly escaped death, forcibly leaving his parents to live in a foreign country. Moses's mother sent him down the river in a basket to escape imminent death. David spends much of his life fleeing those trying to destroy him. And Jesus himself was a child forced escape violence and oppression by becoming a refugee in a foreign country.

Image result for poll syrian refugeesWhat if Joseph hadn't be able to get a housekeeping job in the new country? What if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn't taken in a child in need? What if Saul's son, Jonathan, hadn't defied the law for David's sake? What if the Egyptian immigration agents had stopped Joseph and Mary at the border? Where would we be today, but for those immigrants and refugees?
Image result for poll syrian refugees
We are afraid of what will happen if we offer our welcome. But perhaps we should be more afraid of what happens to us if we won't.


For I was hungry and you said,
"Drug test those who would ask for food."

I was thirsty and you said,
“Oil for us is more important than water for them. Build the pipeline.”

I was a stranger and you said,
“He could be a terrorist. Don’t let him in.”

I was sick and you said, “Take away her health insurance.”

I was in prison and you said,
“Those people disgust me. We should bring back the death penalty.”

Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.

Matthew 25:35-36 (Author Unknown)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Outrage into Action

Image result for "good white people"After years of colorblind racism, we're seeing a heightened national awareness of how racism plays out in the United States. Largely in thanks to the protests in Ferguson, the persistence of #NoDAPL, the vision of the Dreamers, and so many others, conversations about race are once again taking place in 'polite society' and in the highest levels of public discourse.

At the same time, public statements of open bigotry have also been on the rise. A terrible backlash has given rise to new powers and principalities, threatening to re-entrench hate as a populist value. We face the threat of a "new normal" as the sentiments exhibited by our new president and many of his supporters become common place, indeed become the views backed by the government establishment.

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd and outdoorSo these days, there may be a temptation for "good white people" to rest in the assurance that we didn't vote for him, that don't subscribe to the same blatant ugliness, that we are more enlightened, and so are off the hook. We're a least better than that.

But unless our good intentions are converted to deeds, we remain merely hearers, not doers of God's word. It's time to turn our shock, our indigence, our moral righteousness into action. If we sit idly by, wringing our hands while we our own biases unchallenged, we miss the entire point.

Well-meaning white people have helped books like the New Jim Crow top charts, and movie protest songs have penetrated pop culture. But how is it affecting our lived reality and the steps we take each day to change the situation?

Where are your growth edges? Where are you still uncomfortable? What are the current limits of your support? Is it your time? Your money? Your social circles? What are the things you are yet unwilling to surrender for the sake of truly pushing back?

It is often more comfortable to sit on the sidelines, to made snide commentary and crude memes. But that is not what is needed in this moment.  Indeed, we are taught "let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."

So in this post-post-racial era, ask yourself what you specifically can do. Identify the spheres of your own influence and take action. Do you have influence over hiring and firing at your workplace? Do you have a voice in your local schools regarding their disciplinary policies? How is your involvement at your church shaped by principles of justice?

How are you raising your own children in this society? Are you voting knowledgeably and responsibility all the way down the ballot? Do your public officials, both locally and nationally, know where you stand? Where does your money go when it comes to your daily spending, your investing, and your charitable donations?
Image result for moving sidewalk
If we are each willing to take action within our own spheres of influence, then we will begin living into the values professed on our Facebook feeds...and in our Bibles. Together, we will begin actually living out our redemption, having turned from our old ways into a new life.

Let us stop passively moving with the inertia of racism, and begin walking against that trajectory into a new future of justice and wholeness that God intended.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Where Do We Go From Here?

Image result for “Where Do We Go From Here?” mlkFifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave an address entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” to the annual SCLC Convention in Atlanta, GA. It seems it is just as relevant today, and so has been excepted below. You can read the complete version here, or listen to his delivery here.

When our organization was formed ten years ago, racial segregation was still a structured part of the architecture of southern society. Negroes with the pangs of hunger and the anguish of thirst were denied access to the average lunch counter. The downtown restaurants were still off-limits for the black man. Negroes, burdened with the fatigue of travel, were still barred from the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. Negro boys and girls in dire need of recreational activities were not allowed to inhale the fresh air of the big city parks. Negroes in desperate need of allowing their mental buckets to sink deep into the wells of knowledge were confronted with a firm "no" when they sought to use the city libraries.

But today, civil rights is a dominating issue in every state, crowding the pages of the press and the daily conversation of white Americans. In this decade of change, the Negro stood up and confronted his oppressor. He faced the bullies and the guns, and the dogs and the tear gas. He put himself squarely before the vicious mobs and moved with strength and dignity toward them and decisively defeated them.

In short, over the last ten years the Negro decided to straighten his back up, realizing that a man cannot ride your back unless it is bent. We made our government write new laws to alter some of the cruelest injustices that affected us. We made an indifferent and unconcerned nation rise from lethargy and subpoenaed its conscience to appear before the judgment seat of morality on the whole question of civil rights.

Image result for mlk SCLC
But in spite of a decade of significant progress, the problem is far from solved. The deep rumbling of discontent in our cities is indicative of the fact that the plant of freedom has grown only a bud and not yet a flower. With all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact, however, that the Negro still lives in the basement of the Great Society. He is still at the bottom, despite the few who have penetrated to slightly higher levels. Even where the door has been forced partially open, mobility for the Negro is still sharply restricted. There is often no bottom at which to start, and when there is there's almost no room at the top. In consequence, Negroes are still impoverished aliens in an affluent society. They are too poor even to rise with the society, too impoverished by the ages to be able to ascend by using their own resources.

And the Negro did not do this himself; it was done to him. For more than half of his American history, he was enslaved. Yet, he built the spanning bridges and the grand mansions, the sturdy docks and stout factories of the South. His unpaid labor made cotton "King" and established America as a significant nation in international commerce. Even after his release from chattel slavery, the nation grew over him, submerging him. It became the richest, most powerful society in the history of man, but it left the Negro far behind.

Now, in order to answer the question, "Where do we go from here?" which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population.

Image result for infant mortality by raceIn other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.
[Editors note: the links in the above two paragraph provide some the statistics for these comparisons today. They are strikingly, dishearteningly, similar to MLK's time]

Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. We must no longer be ashamed of being black. The job of arousing manhood within a people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.

Even semantics have conspired to make that which is black seem ugly and degrading. In Roget's Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie. The most degenerate member of a family is the "black sheep." Ossie Davis has suggested that maybe the English language should be reconstructed so that teachers will not be forced to teach the Negro child sixty ways to despise himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of inferiority, and the white child 134 ways to adore himself, and thereby perpetuate his false sense of superiority. The tendency to ignore the Negro's contribution to American life and strip him of his personhood is as old as the earliest history books and as contemporary as the morning's newspaper.

To offset this cultural homicide, the Negro must rise up with an affirmation of his own Olympian manhood. And with a spirit straining toward true self-esteem, the Negro must boldly throw off the manacles of self-abnegation and say to himself and to the world, "I am somebody. I am a person. I am a man with dignity and honor. I have a rich and noble history, however painful and exploited that history has been. Yes, I was a slave through my foreparents, and now I’m not ashamed of that. I'm ashamed of the people who were so sinful to make me a slave." Yes, yes, we must stand up and say, "I'm black, but I'm black and beautiful." This, this self-affirmation is the black man's need, made compelling by the white man's crimes against him.

Related image
And if you will let me be a preacher just a little bit. One day, one night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic: that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again."

In other words, "Your whole structure must be changed." A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.

What I'm saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!"

And so, I conclude by saying today that we have a task, and let us go out with a divine dissatisfaction.

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.

Image result for holy dissatisfactionLet us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.

Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.

Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power.

And I must confess, my friends, that the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will still be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. And there will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again, with tear-drenched eyes, have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. But difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Image result for SCLC mlkWhen our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome! We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Getting Jesus to His First Birthday: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for jesus herod egyptAs soon as he born into this world, Jesus's life was at risk.

"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." (Matthew 2:13)

Shortly thereafter, Herod gave the order for all of the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed.

It is a tragedy when any baby dies, let alone thousands dying needlessly. Such unimaginable sorrow.

Yet in the USA, over 23,000 babies die each year before reaching their first birthdays. Globally, it is over four million per year. Like so many other issues, infant mortality disproportionately affects babies living in poverty and babies of color, with Black babies being twice as likely to die as their white counterparts. But it's preventable.

Like Jesus, too many of our babies face "no room in the inn." Like the holy family, families today must overcome the many effects of homelessness and instability. Housing insecurity is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. During pregnancy and after birth, families face serious economic and systemic issues that force them to leave their homes. Even with stable housing, here isn't always safe bedding for infants, who are supposed to sleep Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib.

Image result for alone back crib

No swaddling clothes. No mangers. 
Indeed, the social determinants of infant mortality are extensive, and consistently show disparity across race and class. Babies are more likely to be born too soon and too small when the spacing between births is too short (causing excessive strain on the parent's body), but access to reproductive education and contraception can be limited.  Anxiety and stress in the life of a pregnant parent (including the daily stress of lived racism) also puts babies at risk of premature birth.

Stress is sometimes self-managed with cigarette smoke, which is dangerous for babies both in utero and after birth. Clean air is further compromised by increased proximity to power plants and other forms of pollution. And access to early, affordable healthcare itself is a major factor. Pregnant parents might not have to ride a donkey, but many must ride a city bus across town to visit their prenatal doctor.

In the face of these issues, UM Church for All People is working hard to ensure that every baby in our community reaches its first birthday. We have a full-time staff person committed to the work of engaging families with babies and infants. We host First Birthday parties to celebrate the lives of our children and to connect them to support systems and vital information. We partners with Moms2B to help shepherd high-risk pregnancies. We've launched CareHome, with the managed care company CareSource, to provide affordable stable housing for families through their child's first birthday. We deliver cribs and diapers.  And we do it all through strategic partnerships that bring resources together to help our babies thrive.

Facing systemic and state-sanctioned oppression, Jesus needed divine intervention to reach safety. What is the next decree from the Herods of our modern world that will threaten the lives of our children? And likewise, what is the Egypt for today's children? Where can they go for refuge?

What if we as communities of faith provide that refuge?
What if churches could be that safe space to help babies thrive?

Mary and Joseph managed to protect Jesus and help him thrive past his first birthday.
What might we do to help our babies today?

If you would like more information about how local churches can help reduce infant mortality in their community, contact Community Development for All People at 614-445-7342 or office[at]
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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