I thought I would create a space to share some of my life thoughts as well as some my life's adventures and misadventures. I am not sure what is in store for this Blog. I love God, I love my wife, I enjoy reading, kayaking, cooking, thinking about ways to sustainably help the world's poor, and leaving a smaller carbon footprint on this planet—Steve G’s Eclectic World. As life is both an experiment and a journey so is this blog. I hope that you will take what you like and leave the rest.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

One Reflection on Participating in Civil Disobedience

I was recently part of an action for social justice standing against racism, particularly Israel’s treatment of children, but also including our treatment, on the US border in the South, of those fleeing persecution in their own countries seeking asylum here in ours.  Part of this action presented the option of putting our bodies on the line, that is, risking arrest, with another option for “jail solidarity” where we not carry IDs and refuse to give our names, giving instead the name of a Palestinian child who has been a victim at the hands of the Israeli Army in the context of a military occupation that has lasted for more than a half-century.  This action did not result in any arrests, however, I am still processing the conversation I had with two men of Arab descent, Mohammed* and Hanna* as we were leaving our final organizing meeting.

They both were pumped up and excited for the action when Hanna exclaimed, “I was born for this!” with Mohammed saying, “Me too.”  I looked at them both and said, “I was born white and privileged, I was not born for this.”  It was a somewhat jocular, but also very honest and equally serious response.  They both agreed that this was a good response from a white guy as we all chuckled.

After the action I would get home and process this brief exchange a bit more.  Why would our experiences and approaches to this action, Hanna’s and Mohammed’s contrasted with mine, be so diametrical?  I attempted to step into Mohammed and Hanna’s shoes.  They were both born with browner skin than me, and they were both born of Arab descent, both are things that are far too often dehumanized in our culture and society.  I believe their exclamation of them being born for this action of civil disobedience was that it goes directly against the system that oppresses them—it is a way for them to take the power back.  Whereas, for me, there is no power that I need to take back.  I was born with that power merely for the fact that I am white and male.

As my wife and I sat down to have dinner last night, still processing the day’s events, my prayer was for me and Helene to recognize our power with being white.  Despite, really trying to move away from binary ways of thinking the past couple of years, I believe that a binary picture is worth presenting here.  We really have two options with our power as people with white skin in the context of where we position that power.  Do we place it above where it continues to push down and oppress and really operates from a place of fear where we need to be the ones in control or do we place it underneath with the purpose to lift up?  Of course one could say we can remain neutral.  To that I would quote Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people…There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”  Neutrality is positioning your power above. 

Positioning our power underneath can be scary because it says that I am willing to relinquish control, it says that not everything is about me and my comfort; it says rather than God being the servant of my desires, I am trusting God’s desire for Shalom that is inclusive and restorative for all humanity.  In other words, God is not called to serve me, I am called to serve Her.

My jocular and honest response was true, I was not born to relinquish my power and openly risk being arrested, but as a follower of Jesus, I am called to it in the hopes that the Mohammeds and the Hannas of the next generation will be born with the same power as I was born with; born into a world of inclusive Shalom rather than a world of exclusive Empire.

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Glimpses of Jesus in Joseph

I was at my men’s group from church this evening.  We are looking at ten different men from the Bible this semester in the hopes of becoming more Godly men.  This week we were looking at the life of Joseph. 

Each week our group begins with 5 minutes of silence, something much needed in the fast-paced environment of Washington DC.  Then we sing a few songs.  We are a large group—as many as 30 people on a large night.  Following our singing we will have discussion in a large group setting and then breakout into smaller groups.  During this evening’s smaller group we honed on one quote from Joseph to his brothers that really resonated with me.

When Joseph was in his teens, he was, well, a bit arrogant and he happened to be his father’s favorite.  When he was seventeen Joseph has a dream that he shares with his brothers which make it sound like his brothers, all eleven of them, will worship Joseph.  Sibling rivalry is not something new that has come about—this dream truly pisses Joseph’s brothers off.  So much so, that they decide to kill him.  However, a debate over this approach ensues and they decide to sell him into slavery instead.

Twenty-two years would pass between the time that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. Genesis 37-44 captures this story—Joseph has gone through a lot during those twenty-two years—some good, some really bad.  Chapters 44-50 focus on Joseph’s reunification with his family.

Back to tonight’s group.  We had a question for tonight of whether or not God guides or directs our path.  When we broke into our smaller groups someone mentioned Genesis 50:20 quoting Joseph, who is now a man of great wealth and power, responding to his brother’s request for forgiveness while expecting revenge.  Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”  For a bit our conversation centered around whether or not God was complicit with the brother’s selling of Joseph into slavery.  The question was asked in our group, does not God permit or actually advocate for evil activity to show his goodness?—Joseph does state that “God meant it for good.”  

Reading Genesis 50:15-17: "When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil we did to him.’  So they sent a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father, [not their father but his father’] gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgressions of your brothers and their sins, because they did evil to you.”

This led me to question did Joseph really believe that God actually predestined all these events—was God part of the evil?  Or is Joseph here a foreshadowing of Jesus?  Is Joseph in essence stating, yes of course I can forgive you, but what is that worth? Is it possible that perhaps Joseph’s brothers are so afraid of Joseph that they are forgetting God.  Are we, close to 4000 years removed from this story, oblivious to the rivalrous character of the pagan gods that were a part of Joseph and Israel’s culture that we are missing the prophetic message that Joseph is attempting to share with his brothers? 

If I am one of those 11 brothers I know damn well that there is no pagan god responsible and certainly not Yahweh that is responsible for the actions I took with my jealousy at my younger brother who I betrayed—it was all about my sibling rivalry.  When Joseph says God meant it for good, this is not Joseph saying that God had a hand in this evil action, it is stating that God, Yahweh, can redeem it.  Yes, I, Joseph can forgive you for your evil, but you know what, there is no angry god holding this against you either, Yahweh forgives you as well.  It is strikingly familiar to Jesus statement on the Cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Response to Charlottesville

The following response to the Charlottesville tragedy stems from conversations with two friends.  One who is far right and another who is far left.  I am thankful for both of them in my life!

I am someone who has come to have great empathy for minorities.  However, I believe I also need to develop empathy for the KKK as well. In their own way they are oppressed. Their behavior is irrational and that stems from fear. Until I begin to try and understand that fear, I will just continue to revolve in the same cycle. Moreover, I believe that I am not the only one with this problem.

How do we use our moral imagination to find creative solutions rather than dig our heels into "our side"? Questions to the protesters maybe: What is your favorite hobby? What is your favorite sport? Or perhaps offer them something cold to drink.  Find some kind of common ground somehow which will allow each side to humanize the other--I seriously doubt that the anti-protesters in Charlottesville were able to see past the hate from those they were protesting.  Therefore, they were incapable of recognizing the humanity of those they came to protest against and, if we are honest, that really makes them not that far removed from what it was that they were protesting—they see the hate, which causes fear. Then that fear is transformed into their own anger which is then transformed into their own hate which makes dehumanization the logical next step.

When I went to the protest on immigration earlier this year outside of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC I was frustrated. There were all of these jokes at the expense of 45. I was frustrated with myself because I felt a nudge inside me that wanted to be part of the crowd response to dehumanize 45. I did not participate in those chants but there was a strong part of me that wanted to and disgustingly I did laugh at a few. I was also frustrated with those that did choose to participate; for them failing to recognize that they really were not any different from what they were protesting--As Dr. King states "an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And the dehumanizing of any human is an injustice. That protest became more about what we were against rather than what we were for—In essence we became exactly what it was that we were protesting against. That mob mentality is counterproductive and dangerous as it stems out of fear and anger rather than love.

One of the many things I and admire, respect and love about Dr. King was that his actions and organizing always came from a place of love and humanizing the other. He said, the ends never justify the means, because ends are found in the means. Our means must always begin from a place that resemble what we want our ends to be.