The Living Death of Solitary Confinement

I don’t have much to add to this article except that I really think everyone should read it; know what the effects of this type of treatment are and it’s long term impact. Consider the number of people it is used on each year and the reasons for which it is used (like a meal tray not being turned in). Does this sound like justice to you? Are we equipping people to re-enter society?

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/the-living-death-of-solitary-confinement/?_r=0

Reflection Paper: Ableism

It is estimated that 15 percent of any given population has disabilities that are visible, and that percentage would climb if we were to include things that are invisible to the eye, such as mental illness. (Tataryn, 18) Yet does such a large percentage of the population get to participate fully in the society in which it finds itself? Furthermore, does the society to which these individuals belong find themselves able to benefit from what these people have to offer? When people with impairments aren’t able to participate fully in the society to which they belong they are existing in a space where ableism is defining how they are perceived and treated.

“’Ableism’ names a subtle and pervasive bias that assumes nondisabled people…are ‘normal’ and that people with disabilities represent an undesirable deviation from this norm. The disability is seen as a personal dilemma to be privately endured and we’ve placed the responsibility to adapt on the individual with the disability.” (Kujawa-Holbrook, 211) Ableism is able to seen in all sectors of society. As an example, the church I attend just announced that a sign language interpreter would now be available for the hearing impaired during one of their five services. While this is certainly a step forward, it puts a constraint on when hearing-impaired people can attend service and groups them all together, effectively segregating them from the rest of the congregation. Many of the videos posted to media by my church also do not have subtitles, so it can be challenging for a person with that kind of impairment to feel truly connected to the community.

Publicly we face many ableism challenges, particularly in Cincinnati. Often aisles and entryways are not spaced appropriately for people in wheelchairs and in downtown areas they sometimes don’t have curb cuts or ramps. Additionally, entry into buildings or the use of a bathroom is often not possible because of the older buildings and lack of updates. Usually if my family is going out, we go someplace familiar or check out the location beforehand in order to confirm it is actually wheelchair accessible. This is true of many social gathering spaces, although the growing occurrence of family restrooms is very helpful and accommodating. However, when it comes to swimming pools or entertainment parks the options can be very limiting with no way to gain access to many of the rides or amusements.

Even in politics, the issues of disability are not often discussed unless it is in relation to the elderly or soldiers. That ties it even more to the idea, as the book mentions, that “disability” is a matter of tragedy rather than circumstance. Perhaps the reason it is so little discussed is because of the challenges faced in voting. Where many without impairments complain of the difficulty of voting, the impossibility for some to potentially obtain transportation, wait in line and navigate the voting booth can be a challenge. If they have a home, they can certainly write-in, but many who are disabled by our society find themselves homeless and therefore struggle to have a political voice.

When we look at theology, it is most certainly influenced by the perspective one has biblically. Does one view God as a Creator who spoke diversity into existence and continued to create and inspire diversity in His creations, as he did when He created humankind or told Noah to preserve the diverse life He had created through the Ark? Or does their view of God tie sin to differences between people and ignore that Jesus chooses to hang out with those who the Pharisees called “unclean” over those who were “pure?” Jesus demonstrates clearly that even those whose impairments were linked to their own personal sin were not made any less human because of it or any less worthy of His love and community. Furthermore, as a community, we are called to be one another’s burden bearers in Galatians 6:2.

But the attitude we more often hear says that a person’s life choices caused them to be in the situation in which they find themselves, supporting an ableist perspective. This could be things that people sometimes attribute to character flaws instead of illness or social injustice: addiction, prison sentences for past mistakes, diabetes or an eating disorder. But even if that were the case, it doesn’t change the fact that they are as much human as you or I and equally deserving of our love and companionship. When our ministry doesn’t resemble the ministry of Christ in the way that He dined, preached and lived alongside ALL in his community, we are allowing the paradigm of ableism to carry social injustice into our ministry and potentially nullify it.

 

Works Cited

Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl (Ed.) & Montagno, Karen (Ed.). Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. Print.

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

(Christian) Social Justice in the United States

We like to claim that the United States is the land of the free, but how free are we?  I want to believe that all people, regardless of where they are in their faith journey, want justice for the oppressed but it is a PARTICULAR call on the heart of those who are a follower of YHWH and Jesus. In that vein, I encourage everyone to watch “13th,” a documentary available on Netflix, and keep in your heart these passages.

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (NIV)

I would wonder what the effect of a ballooning prison population starting in the 70’s might have had on the stability of the family unit; in effect do we not create widows and orphans through incarceration?

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4 (NIV)

God puts all of us together; the cause of the voiceless is the cause of those with a voice. Those with power have a responsibility to act for those who are powerless. We should be defending and upholding the cause of anyone experiencing injustice.

“Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)

This is not about anarchy but about making sure that a portion of our society isn’t existing in an oppressed state or being taken advantage of.

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:7-9 (NIV)

So what do your actions say about which side you are on. Even something as simple as voting. Where do your votes fall for the widows, the fatherless, the foreigner and the poor?

A few additional articles:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/03/americas-prison-population (Article looking at the current prison population of the United States and what it means)

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2015.html (2015 Prison Statistics)

http://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2015/08/14/jailsmatter/  (Role jails play in US)

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html?_r=0   (The issues around bail for those in poverty and the ripple effect it has on their lives; many are found innocent)

http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/07/us/kalief-browder-dead/  (Man jailed as teen for 3 years without conviction commits suicide)

 

 

 

 

Contextual Theology of Ministry Compacted

As I began to try to understand my call to ministry, this driving purpose that propels me forward but asks me to try to bring about change without doing harm, I look towards theology. Perhaps others start with theology and head in the direction of ministry. Either way, we wind up in the midst of the theology of ministry, where we must ask ourselves how we can understand what that ministry should look like. Through gaining an understanding of God’s nature and Laws, we begin to understand how our ministry should be shaped. This is the premise of theology of ministry. We cannot do that that without context though; people require comparison to something they already understand or a demonstration to really begin to grasp theology of ministry because otherwise it is incomprehensible.  Jesus shows us these two things clearly in his ministry. We therefore must take a situation or circumstance and, using our understanding of God through the Scripture and other historical writings and teachings, discern how God is present, what aspects we can come to know God in this situation, and what it tells us about what we should do.

Let us look, for example, at slavery. Now we all know that there are various verses in the Bible that offering a variety of insights on slavery at the times those book were written. This is too broad. If we instead narrow down to slavery that is present in the US up until the end of the Civil War we begin to see a very different context. These slaves were stolen or traded from villages who endured inhumane conditions on ships where, if they survived, they were treated as animals and auctioned off. Most were not allowed to marry and any children they had were property of their owners. They could be beaten, raped, tortured, killed and there were basically no repercussions to the “owners.” They could be separated from one another at any moment never to see each other again. These were a people abused and oppressed.

When we try to discover where God is present biblically within the context of these abused and oppressed slaves, we see it is with the oppressed and not with the oppressor. Psalm 82:3-4 tells us, “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” God called the Christian people in power to service, gave them direction on how to treat the slaves who matched in every adjective this description. Yet it took 10 million lives crossing an ocean as captives and four hundred years to pass before freedom would be gained. In Deuteronomy 10:18 we are told, “”He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” We see in 1 Samuel 2:8 the promise that Christians know, and that the Christian slaves saw in the resurrection of Jesus: “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, And He set the world on them.”

Now that we understand both the historical and biblical context (in compact form), we can discern that from this context, God is one for justice of all who are not treated as a person of free will: orphan, widow, weak, fatherless, afflicted, destitute, needy; all to be delivered out of the hands of the wicked. These individuals aren’t in this state because of their choosing but because of the oppression they suffer and so we know that God also stands against oppression. Lastly, we learn that there will be a resurrection for all these individuals, a place of honor. God will bring reconciliation through resurrection. We also know that Jesus told us that as he does, we are also to do.

In summary, we walk away from this contextual theological analysis of slavery understanding God and our call as Christians in three critical ways. First, God seeks justice for those who are at a disadvantage and we should do the same. Second, God takes side against oppressors and with the oppressed and we must try to make sure that when we act, we always act in solidarity with the oppressed and not with those that oppress. Lastly, just as God promises to do, we have the ability and call right now to treat people with honor, dismantle unjust power structures and bring reconciliation into the lives of our fellow human beings through compassionately loving them.

A God Who Suffers and Why the Crucifixtion Might Be the Least Important Part of Jesus’ Story

The Holocaust was a major obstacle for modern Christian theology. The body count was too high, the treatment too brutal, the target too specific, the apathy too apparent. What answer could possibly be given for a God that allows atrocities on the scale that occurred in concentration camps, often at the hands of Christians? This was not war. It was the murder of six million Jews and three million others who were from minority groups or were sympathizers. They were defenseless. The answers to the questions for why certain things happen to certain people were no longer adequate. Nobody could reason away that such abuse was God’s Will or was for the best; those regular platitudes Christians mistakenly offer so often as solace, not realizing the weight it places on the victim, become apparent in their inadequacies in this situation. It would have been impossible for the symbol of the cross to not raise questions and dilemmas about God for Christianity.

Traditional theology teaches that, “…God does not will suffering directly. Rather, having created a world with its own natural laws, a world, moreover, where human beings have free will, God allows or permits disaster to happen… Even when suffering is unjustly inflicted on the innocent, God allows it out of respect for human freedom. No matter what happens, God will bring good out of evil in the end.” (Johnson, 51) But this kind of modern theism almost takes God out of most of the story; placing the Trinity only at the beginning and the end. It reinforces this distant, uninvolved Creator that shook off the dust once the work of creation was complete. Furthermore, it creates the perception that if things aren’t fair now, it is okay because God will make it alright in the end. This can be dangerously manipulated to justify the act of doing nothing, of promising reward in the next life instead of seeking justice for God’s creations now.

That answer was, not surprisingly, inadequate to many. The inhumanity that occurred within the concentration camps (and the US unwillingness to be involved until forced, the Japanese internment, the brutality on all war fronts, the Rape of Nanking, nuclear bombs, etc.) made people all over the world question their understanding of Christians and their Trinity. Christian theology and the cross had to take into account the suffering of the people in a way that did not have God as a distant, top of the pyramid Lord indifferent to the suffering of man. Additionally, presenting God as someone who sacrifices His own undeserving Son would translate extremely poorly to those who lost loved ones in the War and in camps. It makes no sense without the context of the resurrection (which was often a theistic after thought). Atheism provides an unfortunately reasonable response to an indifferent God that creates Christians who are okay with torturing and murdering millions of men, women and children. Not surprisingly, faith in God is not at its all-time high in countries that went through the World Wars. And yet there is an even better answer to the issue of the crucifixion in ideas like Dorothee Solle.

Dorothee, a German Lutheran theologian who visited Auschwitz, is described in Quest for the Living God as coming “…to the realization that rather than being a dominating force or an ineffective form of love, divine power is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) To her, God isn’t this omnipotent God, whose main attribute is power and whose primary concern is over who wields power and who submits. God also isn’t impotent love, dying helplessly on the cross, weaponless and without any power. God instead elects to sacrifice and suffer with humanity, and the full story of the cross is in the resurrection because it brings hope to those in the world who themselves are a member of the crucified. ”None of this Christian theologizing is meant to remove the terror of the Holocaust from the Jews… But the God who shared in the suffering and death of the cross and brought the power of life to bear in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was there, suffering in the death camps.” (Johnson, 64)

There were, as mentioned, other theological paths that could be taken following WWII; this is just one solution. However, if the idea isn’t the distance, absence, or indifference of God then another option is that God was present in the concentration camps, beside those who suffered or even suffering with them and hope rests not in endless suffering but in a God that resurrects those that suffer injustice. This is, right now, an aspect of God that resonates with me. A God that takes sides, whose power within his human story lies in his teachings, his life and in his power to be resurrected out of an unjust death and yet to be present with us always. In other words, the Trinity, who I’ve come to see most simplistically as The Giver, The Gift, and the Giving. But more on that later…

Everyday, We Choose to be Christians

I haven’t finished “processing” the Holocaust yet, not that one ever can. It is something I studied for a very long time and used, when I was an atheist, for proof of both God’s non-existence or callousness and the evil of Christians. Yet as I dive further into this challenging issue I have begun to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of why Jesus said he brought good news to the poor.  It is because it was not perceived as good news to the rest of the people and if we repent and believe, our faith calls for our actions to speak for us. Unfortunately, there are Christians that don’t hear this call to action and don’t see this perspective of Jesus and they are often the most vocal and visible on television and comment sections online.

Jesus did not tell us, first and foremost, to condemn. To lecture. To tell people that they shouldn’t have abortions but if they want to take care of that kid they should have, then they should go to college to get a degree so they can get a job whose pay  will maybe lift them out of poverty after they pay the loans off in ten years (or much more offensive bits of condemnation masked as wisdom). In fact, Jesus tells us to do this:

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love in the Hebrew context is not making a heart shape with your hands at someone; it isn’t only words or gestures. Love is action. Jesus is telling people that loving your neighbor is as important as loving God and it is loving them in a physical, actionable way. It is sometimes sacrifice of time or resources. Jesus makes it even more clear that He means this in this next verse:

Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

Two important things to note here.  One, Jesus put himself in, and suffers with, those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers (foreigners), naked, sick, and IMPRISONED. He didn’t mention the rich, or even the comfortable. Jesus speaks of people who are condemned, who are insulted, who are blamed for their condition by society in Jesus’ time and  today.  Two, those are the people God sides with, and there are sides. This is because God cannot abide injustice. God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit to right these wrongs, to fix the injustice of the world, to comfort the sick. Christians are called to do God’s work, to bring God’s Kingdom from heaven to earth, and when we ignore that call and continue to support the mechanisms of oppression in our systems, businesses and government, we are part of the problem.

Here is hard news for many “first world” people. Each day, we choose to be liberators or oppressors. We choose whether or not we follow Christ’s teachings. Personally, I never realized how much I was a part of a system of oppression. That doesn’t free me from responsibility though. Sticking my head in the sand, turning the news off, or ignoring the sadness in my heart doesn’t stop the suffering in the world; personally I think the only thing it does is breaks God’s heart because that’s how the Trinity speaks to us. Through our heart, soul and mind.

I think God is reaching out, that the Holy Spirit is calling to us to have compassion, to do the Lord’s work, to bring the Kingdom through charity, empowerment and justice. When I look at the Bible, this is how I see God operate. Generally, it is through relationships with people, not God acting alone. We act with God and when we don’t, we deny our Creator. Choosing to be ignorant to the suffering of God in humanity seems to be an unacceptable option, personally, so I continue to work at improving this.

This is not to say that our actions earn us anything. It doesn’t; but it does speak to our relationship with God and suffering humanity, with whom Jesus says He is with. It makes clear who our King really is, who we really believe is our Savior, and where we really believe the Kingdom lies. How we spend our money, where we choose to live, what companies we support (fair trade, ethics, etc.), the way we spend our time and treat people. These things matter deeply.

Let us not forget these very important points:

  1. Jesus had the humblest of births
  2. Jesus in adulthood travelled and was therefore fundamentally homeless; Jesus often relied on the charity and goodwill of others and was also in solidarity with both the foreigner and the poor in his living condition. He gave similar conditions to his disciples at times.
  3. Jesus kept company with those considered to be outsiders of his faith, people that others would look down on he looked at with love and compassion.
  4. Jesus suffered and died the brutal, violent death of a criminal (prisoner).
  5. Jesus was resurrected, a promise of hope to all people who feel the solidarity of Jesus Christ in their suffering.

It seems like these are sometimes glossed over, or that Jesus did all that just as a side note.  You don’t dedicate 30+ years, coming into the world and leaving it in the most humble of ways, without good reason. Not Christ. The Prosperity gospels tell you that if you do the right thing God blesses you with wealth and health which conversely means that if you’re poor and sick, God thinks that’s what you deserve. I just don’t see that God as the good God I know.  If you look at Jesus, His blessings are all for people in a place of suffering and oppression. His freedom is not a freedom for you to become more rich, but for you to find freedom in salvation so that you can bring more freedom to others.

Just a few thoughts. Still trying to process it all.

Three German Theologians Post-Holocaust

Jurgen Moltmann hypothesized that God’s suffering is real. He theorized that it was relationally flowing from authentic love. Summarized below are some of the ideas contained in Moltmann’s theology.

Jurgen Moltmann, a German post-Holocaust “political theologist,” placed suffering into the being of God and described this idea as the “crucified God.” Before this, it was assumed in most circles that the suffering experienced by Jesus was relegated to the flesh and that the divine nature was out of the reach of this suffering. Moltmann’s proposal presented the startling vision of a God that truly suffers with those who suffer in the world. During the crucifixion, Moltmann suggests that not only does the Son suffer a brutal physical death, but the Father also suffers in the separation from His son and out of their mutual love the Holy Spirit comes into our sinful and broken world. It is really important to note that God doesn’t have to do go through this; God freely chooses to suffer out of their love for humanity. This does not justify evil or bad things happening in the world; instead it is a reminder that God is a God that sides with the suffering and rests in the depths of it, desirous for the freedom and restoration of the Creator’s people.

Dorothee Soelle worked through three “theological positions” by which she shapes her conclusion that “divine power is the silent cry of life in the midst of suffering.”

     Dorothee Soelle is a German whose family helped hide a Jewish family during the war and elected to visit Auschwitz as a young Lutheran theologian. Bearing witness to such events caused her to re-evaluate the classical attributes ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. As Elizabeth Johnson says in Quest for a Living God, “…she went from classical theism’s omnipotent Father who requires obedience, to the powerless God on the cross who models the impotence of love, to the crucified and risen Christ in whom the divine victory of life over death empowers our own participation in God’s power of life.” (Johnson, 63)

First, she questioned why we would be encouraged to worship a God whose most important characteristic seems to be power and disliking of independence. She eventually finds this incongruent with the character of God. Then she goes on to the idea of this passive, selfless love in Christ who dies on the cross. The portrayal comes across as weaponless, that love is impotent and that it creates apathy in followers in the face of real-life human suffering (as one might see in those who allowed the atrocities of WWII to happen). Soelle came to believe this was because it was neglecting the whole story of Christ, excluding the value of the resurrection. Finally, she arrives at the conclusion that the Divine is, “…a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) While nothing justifies events like Auschwitz to her, the belief that God shared in death and suffering as well as brings this kind of power through the resurrection of Jesus offers a vision of a loving and justice seeking God we can worship and with whom we can be in relationship.

Johannes Metz didn’t find the suffering God image helpful. Instead, Metz theologically positioned the problem of suffering within the constellation of considerations. Several components of theology guided the development to his two part approach.

Metz actually fought on the front for the German army at the age of 16; while he was delivering a message his company was attacked and he came back to only bodies where just a day before there were youths sharing hopes, dreams and jokes. His Catholic confidence in a good God  and orderly world began to separate and the Holocaust created a gap that couldn’t be bridged by ignoring the issue, as many in theology were doing.  Nor did Metz agree with the “God who suffers” that fellow Germans Solle and Moltmann had concluded upon. He felt this internalization made suffering beautiful and eternal and therefore went a different path. Suffering was outside of God. There aren’t simple answers. “Toward that end, Metz proposes two intertwined steps: remembering and lamenting unto God.” (Johnson, 65)

First was to remember. Jesus Christ stood in solidarity with all humanity. Through recalling his sacrifice and resurrection, we should also remember those who suffer throughout human history.  This is done because it takes victory away from the conquerors, the writers of history. It also connects each individuals story to the story of Christ in a concrete way, in a way that promises hope for them and also that reminds us of the dangers of inaction; the power of evil.  Second is to lament to God, to keep the question to our Father open rather than wrapping it up in a neat package. “So too, suffering of past and present must drive us toward God protesting, complaining, lamenting, grieving, crying out of the depths, insistently questioning “How long, O Lord?” (Johnson, 67)  This keeps our hopes alive.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People… and God

This video is a lecture by Rabbi Harold Kushner and he knows something about this topic. The video is going to seem dated, but there is a lot to be learned from what he has to say. It is nearly an hour long but I encourage you to find time for the whole thing. Some of it might feel encouraging, scary, healing, uncomfortable or even dangerous. I would just recommend taking it all in. I don’t think you’ll regret it.