Saturday, December 15, 2018

Jakelin and her People

Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin died in U.S. custody last week, aged 7 years old. She and her father, Nery Caal, had come from an area in Guatemala where a Mayan dialect is spoken, Q'eqchi, rather than Spanish.

I wondered what specifically made this father and daughter leave their home and make such a difficult trip. I can’t find any evidence that gives the particulars in their case; however, their being Mayan makes me suspect that their indigenous culture is under exploitation and their lives are at risk.

Why do I think that? Because people are on the move around the planet for this very same reason. Militarism and exploitation of indigenous lands are happening all around the world, and people are fleeing or being driven off their ancestral lands because industry requires the raw (and financially valuable) materials.

We see it in our own nation, as the water protectors of Standing Rock stood firm through all weathers to prevent the Keystone Pipeline from coming through their lands. We see it in the Philippines, as indigenous people are displaced by the Philippine military and must decide between staying and attempting to save their lands, or leaving and saving their lives. And we see that wars all over the world are making people flee. More people are on the move around the planet than ever before in history, risking life and limb to try to find a tenable place to live.

The death of a small indigenous child in the custody of the United States government has moved many to outrage and grief.

Just this past week, a group of religious leaders were arrested at the border to protest the U.S. Government’s treatment of these asylum seekers. The question before us, the question of our time, is whether or not our hunger for justice will override our fear of those migrants on the move, and whether we can see all of God’s children as worthy of a home and a future in peace.

-- Rev. Sandie Richards

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Talking about Suicide

Because I am a pastor, friends often ask for advice on how to approach sensitive subjects with their children and teens. Recently, a friend asked how to explain to her preteen daughter that a friend in their community had taken his own life.

We talked about what she might say, and afterwards she said, “You should write a blog post about this.” So, I’m writing a blog post about it!

Firstly, suicide is confusing. It leaves the living with a variety of deep feelings, such as grief, guilt, anger, and helplessness.  The complications can mean that grief is protracted and even more challenging to experience. There also remains quite a stigma around suicide.

How to speak of the situation, especially to a young person? We often say that someone ‘committed suicide’, which is such a harsh-sounding phrase. I might say instead, that the person died by their own hand because they didn’t see a way forward.

The phrasing indicates a empathy with the person who has died; to try to understand what brings a person to that decision. Physical, mental, and emotional pain can be overwhelming, and though the person has chosen a permanent solution to what may be a temporary problem, it is heartbreaking to contemplate what feelings might have led them to such a drastic action.

Empathy also can help to remove the stigma. When we describe death by one’s own hand in more compassionate terms, we are working to remove the shame that the living loved ones often feel.

For information on Suicide Prevention, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at  1-800-273-8255

For more information on grieving a loved one who has died by their own hand: Healing After A Loved One’s Suicide by Mayo Clinic Staff.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

SHOOTING DAY, part one

As a person who is FOR sensible gun laws and AGAINST gun violence, I am often asked whether or not I have ever shot a gun, or whether or not I own one. Well, I haven’t and I don’t- at least, not yet. My total experience to date regarding the handling of guns is that once upon a time I dated a guy who was in training to be a police officer. I used to carry his gun in my purse when we went out. That’s the extent of my gun handling, and it is something I wouldn't do today.

I’ve been around gun violence most of my life. Most recently, there were several murders by gunshot in my neighborhood. And who can tell on New Year’s Eve, what are fireworks and what is gunfire? We stayed in, as far to the interior of the house as possible.

Just under 30 years ago, my father was killed by a gun. It was a shotgun, wielded by one of two gang members who knocked on his door in the middle of the night. I still haven’t recovered, either from that or from the ambient violence of life in my childhood neighborhood surrounded by gangs. Every year on the anniversary of his death, whether I remember that it is the day or not, my body remembers. Every March 3, I always feel horrible, and have a very short temper. When I remember, I can make plans to take care of myself. If I forget, which is about half the time, my family has to deal with a cranky, aggrieved person. That’s just how it goes.

Needless to say, I am not a fan of guns. Nonetheless, I am curious to see what it is like to shoot one. So, this Friday, off I will go for lunch and shooting with a couple of really amazing women. I’ve asked my dear friend, who is a gentle soul, a poet, and a gun owner, to take me shooting for the very first time. She’s asked another friend of hers, who on Facebook at least is hilarious, to come and instruct me. So, there will be three madcap gals a-shootin’ (safely, of course)  at a range in somewhere in the northern parts of Los Angeles. Perhaps we’ll strike a ‘Charlie’s Angels’ pose. In any event, it will be a safe space to learn and explore.

Let us see if this shooting day helps me in some way to better understand the answer to my question: “Why guns at all?”

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Plea for Humanity

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?  Matthew 5:43-46  (CEB)

One of the most difficult spiritual disciplines is that of loving one’s enemies and praying for those who harass you. On the face of it, it shouldn’t be so hard. Jesus himself told us to do it, and even demonstrated enormous grace as he prayed for those who were in the act of torturing and killing him. “Father, forgive them,” he prayed, “For they know not what they do.”

Why did Jesus ask us to love those who hate us? And what does this love look like? We must begin looking at one another’s humanity. Some of us will recall the plaintive cold-war verse from Sting, in his song titled Russians”: “We share the same biology regardless of ideology.”  Perhaps when we see what’s at stake for our ‘enemy’, we can better understand why they are taking the stance they take. Instead, we elevate our own perspectives and denigrate the ‘other’.

The language we are using is alarming. I ceased a facebook friendship with someone who, while swearing he wasn’t acting racist, continued to refer to our president as ‘The Hussein’ and continually decried Barack Obama with racist-tinged ridicule. Likewise, I am always shocked to see people spell ‘Republican’ as ‘Repugs’, as if nothing good could ever come from anyone who is part of that party. Now, people may say, if one is a public figure, one is fair game. Perhaps, but we must watch carefully not to step over a line where the object of our disagreement becomes a target of derision.

The price of our increasingly divisive culture is alienation. We find ourselves becoming alienated from one another, and in the balance, we are becoming alienated from our own humanity. We begin the process through ridicule and a sense of superiority, as opposed to simply disagreeing. The subject ceases to be that about which we are debating, and becomes an ad hominem attack on one another’s actual worth as a human being.

Once we allow others to become less than human in our eyes, we give ourselves permission to treat them as less than human. This very phenomenon allowed ‘good, church going’ men and women to own as chattel, to beat, and to torture human beings that they held as slaves. We still live in that legacy today, as our racist systems carry forward despite ‘good intentions’ to end them.  It allows us as U.S. Americans to condone torture of prisoners of war, despite the fact that, as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, we have said we never would resort to such a thing.

We can only torture people whose humanity we deny. Otherwise, we see ourselves in their faces, cringe at their pain, become horrified at what suffering has been visited upon them. If, in our rage and fear, we want to see someone harmed, then we have strayed far from the path Christ has set for us. We have become something different, something monstrous. In denying the humanity of others, we also lay down our own humanity.

Let us begin by reining in our own fears. We must become spiritually mature and able to examine ourselves as deeply and mercilessly as we examine our ‘enemies’. And, though the examination be merciless, the resolution must be the opposite. We must be full of grace and mercy for ourselves and one another, for it is in imitation of the grace and mercy Christ has for us. And it is what allows for reconciliation and peace, gives hope for the future, and truly shows the world what it means to be Christian.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ruth & Naomi & Two Winter Weddings

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’” (Ruth 1:16, NIV/

I got married to Bill Bronner on Saturday, January 16, 1999. On that same day, another couple also got married in Northern California-- and many of our guests were torn about which wedding they should attend.

That other couple was  Jean Barnett and Elie Charleton. They had waited much longer than we had to make their love official in a church, so it was fitting that 95 officiants and 1200 guests had come together to honor their nuptials.

Luckily, our friends had decided to attend our wedding rather than Ellie and Jean’s; we had about ⅙ as many guests, and we only had the one officiant! Nonetheless, we were definitely with them in spirit.

We honored their ceremony in our wedding service. In addition to our more traditional vows, the Rev. Frank Wulf had Bill and I repeat the vows that Ruth made to Naomi. “Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.” The power of those vows were clear to me that day. It is powerful to tie oneself to the people and the God of one’s wedded partner.

My own family of origin is a fractured foundation. For many years, I was truly on my own, struggling and working to make a healthy life. I was blessed to have found friends, both straight and LGBT, who helped to fill the fissures and make my foundation firm. They’ve had my back. When I needed a place to be safe, they sheltered me. When I needed a listening ear, they were nearby. When I was struggling with my call, and finally with ordination, my gay mentors supported me. Frankly, I would likely not be a United Methodist minister without them.  

Together we forged an alternative kind of family: Close-knit, accepting, caring, generous, and honest. I came to rely on them for hospitality, for advice, for all kinds of help and support.

It is therefore impossible for me to understand how anyone could say that my Lesbian and Gay friends are anything other than God’s sacred people. They have been the agents of God’s spirit all along my path, from my earliest childhood until now. They have affirmed my sacred worth. I can do nothing other than to affirm theirs.

I can do all the arguments from Scripture-- most of us in the church business know them all by heart and, from our respective sides, we can do them in our sleep. If you like, you can join those on hundreds of facebook pages, news posts, and blog entries.

But this post is not about that argument. This is simply my testimony. It is the truth I know from my own life and experience. I can only witness to what I have seen and heard; what I know in my heart to be true.

I could marry, fully and legally, on January 16, 1999.

Elie and Jean could not. At least they could take their vows in front of their friends, and make a witness to the sacred bond between them.

I cannot agree in mind, heart, or spirit with anyone who believes that same-sex attraction is, of itself, a wrong thing. It simply is.

I have watched as my LGBT friends and family endured the injustice of having their relationships treated as wrong; their very being called an abomination. I have seen some of them crumble under the judgement of their families and religions. But more often, I have seen them triumph. They defined themselves rather than allowing unhealthy and cruel systems to define them. They carried on in love, in creating family, in making friends, and in struggling for justice.

Through them I came to learn that their struggles in relationship were identical to mine, excepting in two important ways: They were in love with people of their same gender, AND society did not accept their relationships.

I am glad now to celebrate with them as we begin to define this new step forward in our nation’s acceptance of who they are.

My son knows from birth what I only discovered as a young adult: That gay and lesbian refers only to who you choose as a partner. Everything else is just the same in life, in love, and even before God.

There were at least two weddings on January 16, 1999 for whom the vow Ruth gave to Naomi became a marriage vow.

“Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.”


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Hidden Cost of Armed Conflict: 90% of casualties are non-combatants, mostly women & children

"Wisdom is better than the weapons of war, but one fool can destroy much good." -Ecclesiastes 9:18


What if you knew that in order to fight a war, 90% of those killed in the war would be non-combatants:  mostly women and children? Would it be worth it, whatever the cause?

Welcome to the modern era, where nine out of every ten people killed in war are women and children. That's right. In the wars waged over the past twenty years, 90% of those killed in conflicts are non-combatants.

Not all of them die of bullets or bombs. Many die of hunger, physical or sexual assault, and disease. But, their hunger and their diseases are a direct result of the conditions of war being waged in their cities and villages.  

At the turn of the last century, 90% of those killed in armed conflict were soldiers, and 10% were civilian casualties. By World War II, civilian casualties had increased to 65%. Finally, by the time of the conflicts in the 1990’s, the number had completely reversed—and now, it remains that at least 90% of casualties are non-combatants. Still more are displaced and/or suffer trauma, hunger, assault, and other tragedies.

This fact is not news, first because our national and international leaders have known about this for a long time. And second, it isn't news because our news outlets don't think it is important enough information to tell us about it. When casualties are reported, only the deaths of soldiers or contractors are counted. 

Now that you know, there are many things you can do to help pressure our governments to put an end to conflict. Here's a list of five things you can do, for a start:

  1. Tell people about this reality. Make it news. 
  2. Join Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, Amnesty International and a host of others who call for more women to be involved in peace negotiations. The participation of women ensures a just and lasting peace.
  3. Become a peace advocate. Stand against any ‘drumbeat’ to war. There are those who believe that to the threat of war is proof of the strength of a nation, but in truth, the greater strength is in finding solutions that avoid combat. And since we know that one out of ten people who will be harmed in a war are non-combatants, we simply must stand against the use of violent force as a means to an end.
  4. Make peace an official part of the work of our GovernmentOhio Congressman Dennis Kucinich proposed a Department of Peace. Given what we know about the lasting effects of violent conflict, a governmental department dedicated to teaching non-violent conflict resolution and finding alternatives to war seems essential. (By the way, the bill also addressed domestic violence, rehabilitation of prisoners, and other means for creating a peaceful and secure society.) 
  5. Write your elected officials and let them know that you object to the use of force by the United States, because you know that wars are no longer soldiers fighting soldiers. Those most vulnerable will pay the ultimate price.

Whatever you choose to do, do it now.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Escuchanos en Los Campos

.Although strict guidelines were passed in 2005 demanding that farm workers be given adequate rest, shade, and water, the United Farm Workers Union reports that heatstroke continues to claim the lives of California's farm workers. Lack of accountability has been the issue.Today, the Farm Worker Safety Act, AB 2346 (Butler), is making its way through the California State Assembly

Reports say that this bill has more 'teeth', allowing both growers and contractors to be liable for manslaughter should a farmworker die of heat stroke on their watch. Yes, that is a serious consequence, but allowing someone to die for lack of rest, shade, and water is a kind of indifference to human life that is shocking. And so far, current legal remedies have proved ineffective in stopping the deaths.

In 2009 we mourned the life of Agustin Gaudino, who, having been denied the opportunity to rest and get shade, sought respite under some grape vines. There, he breathed his last. His coworkers did not miss him until that evening. His body was found the next day.

Here is Agustin's song, written and performed by Nina Fernando. It still stands as a prayer that no one else will die needlessly for lack of these basic human requirements: