Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Holy cow! Eat 'mor' equality!

I like Chick- fil -A. No, I love Chick- fil -A. Something about those waffle fries and Polynesian sauce really gets my taste buds going. I grew up in the south eating their kid's meals, excited to go to the food court Chick-fil-A in The Mall in Columbia to get the latest Adventures in Odyssey children's Bible cassette and book. As I got older, Chick-fil-A became the go-to alternative for me and my friends when we wanted cheap grub that actually tasted like real food. We loved the place so much we got after-school jobs there so we could eat those delicious fried chicken morsels whenever we wanted to for free.

Unfortunately, Chick- fil -A doesn't seem to love me as much as I love them.

Chick-fil-A has been in the news during the past year for their financial support of various anti-gay groups like the Family, a Pennsylvania anti–marriage equality group, and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family (the parent company of those little wholesome Adventures in Odyssey tapes).

Though the restaurant chain does not explicitly discriminate against gay and lesbians diners, they do explicitly dislike gay marriage. So much to the point that they were willing to organizations whose agendas is to stop marriage equality at all costs. Basically, if you are queer-identified, continue to plunk down the five to eight bucks for a Chick-fil-A value meal. Just don't plan on hiring the restaurant to cater your big, fabulous gay wedding reception.

As a private company, Chick-fil-A has the right to support whatever cause they choose, but in representing itself as a company based on Bibl

ical principles, it fails to show the type of unconditional love Christ showed among the "outcasts" of his day. Most LGBT people in support of marriage equality want to have the same type of loving, lasting and committed partnership Chick-A-fil outlines

in its Winshape Foundation marriage retreats. LGBT couples are not asking to have a license to engage in risky, unsafe, irresponsible sexual relationships that only last for the moment. We are asking for an opportunity to be in the type of relationship that I Corinthians 13 outlines: patient, kind, not self-seeking, rude or easily angered and that will always protect, trust, hope and persevere.

I personally have never felt discriminated against at the restaurant and always felt welcome both as a patron and an employee. I am not advocating a mass boycott because that is not demonstrating the loving principles Christ instructed us to do in being patient with one another and keeping no record of wrongs. However, I do strongly encourage top Chick-fil-A executives to meet with a loving gay couple. Ask them what their desires and fears are a

bout being married and why they want to spend the rest of their lives together. I guarantee they won't have "beef" about the legitimacy of their relationship.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Have you ever seen the 1991 film Fried Green Tomatoes? When a friend recently asked me to watch it, I reluctantly agreed remembering that it came out when I was in elementary school. Honestly, I thought it was going to be similar to a Beverly Cleary book-made-movie. Was I ever surprised!

Instead of dealing with the concerns of early-adolescent girls, the film addressed a myriad of social justice issues throughout the 20th century in the South including gender expectations and roles, racial tensions and injustices, domestic abuse and same-sex relationships. In a sense, I felt overwhelmed by how many topics were addressed in this film.

Sometimes I feel that way in life. If we’re supposed to do justly (Micah 6:8), does that mean I’m expected to become a foster parent while caring for my widowed grandmother, fight politically for equal rights, donate money to the local food pantry and women's shelter as well as an orphanage abroad, start a community garden in my backyard and refuse to use styrofoam?

(Hm, now that I started listing ways to fight for social and environmental justice, it actually seems doable...)

My experience has been that I’m generally passionate about two issues: orphan care and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. I’ve been inspired by people I’ve met and their stories of injustice have caused me heartache. Yet, one of my best friends in college was equally passionate about sex education and how it could lower the rate of abortions. We once hotly debated which topic is more important. She argued that if everyone had children they wanted and could care for, then orphan care wouldn’t be needed. And I responded that in reality, there are orphans and probably always will be so we need to support them. Finally we agreed to disagree with thankfulness that God could be glorified through both of our passions.

While we should all try to do justly in all that we do, it is good for us to be uniquely interested in various concerns. Since I’m new blogging on this site, I’m curious...

What topics are you passionate about? Why? And who inspires you?

Would you mind leaving a comment about your experiences? I would find it encouraging to learn that there are many of us young adults in the United Methodist Church who are working towards a better world by focusing on a variety of issues. Thank you!

Heather V is a graduate of Drew Theological School and is currently working as the Director of Pastoral Care at Trinity United Church in Warren, NJ while working through the UMC ordination process.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

MLK Day: A "Day On", Not a "Day Off"

by Ace Parsi

There aren't many traditions that I look back fondly on from my days as an undergrad at Penn State. One I do though is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. If you did some type of service that day, you could take the day off class. There would also be discussions across the campus and end with a keynote speaker who would better frame the day. When I was a freshmen, the keynote speaker was the late Yolanda King, Dr. King’s oldest child. During that speech, she said something that stuck with me. She said that she appreciated the idea that MLK Day would be a "day on," rather than a "day off."

That was the spirit through which a few of us met on Monday night to discuss how Dr. King's words applied to our lives today. We began the night with a long discussion of Dr. King’s unfortunately prophetic sermon, "I've Been to the Mountaintop." It was a profound, yet eerie speech where King essentially prophesies his own death. Yet, the speech is so profound because it does and teaches us so much more. In reading his speech, one can find very clear parallels to situations we face today. In order to encourage unity against a barrage of media and opposing forces the civil rights and anti-poverty movement was facing, King highlights that Pharaoh’s greatest weapon against the Jews was sowing seeds of disunity. Similarly, the group of us discussed that as progressives, we face our own challenges with disunity as each of us focuses on our own narrow issues and overlooks the common bond we must all share in our pursuit for a more just world.

In reflecting on the challenges King and the movement faced in his time and the challenges we still face today, our group discussed whether we believed King when he said that, "The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice." We discussed that while we had achieved great gains with regards to voting rights, women's rights, and the fight against racism, we had also as a society fallen deeper and deeper into the deep waters of materialism. As young people of faith, what did it all mean for us moving forward? The answer that seemed to satisfy us in part is that like King our souls were not to be made content through some future victory or land of milk and honey. Instead, we would be fulfilled by the present effort. Like King, it's the effort that brings us closer to our Creator.

Over the course of the night, we only got through two speeches: "I've Been to the Mountaintop" and "Transformed Nonconformist" (PDF). Yet, the night served the most ideal purpose. It gave us a chance to reconnect, reenergize, and refocus. Traditions like this are really important. Now, I'm just looking forward to the next MLK Day that we can make a "day on" of.


Ace Parsi is a progressive Christian and education advocate in Washington DC.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Haiti Earthquake and The Network of Mutuality

In 1963, from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We are one amidst many.

Today, January 12 marks the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Arising from the chaos was the physical, emotional, and spiritual devastation of one of the poorest nations in the world.

It took an earthquake for the world to recognize the truth of the inescapable network of mutuality in which we live.

When cities collapsed and the heights brought low,

Haitians grasped for life, reached through daylight cracks.

If only our hands held more than empty air so to pull all from the wreckage.

Within this mutuality we recognize that hearts and minds are an entanglement of interwoven connections; we receive, interpret, and transmit expressions of the self to others and the world.

Still, we fail to recognize, embrace, and nurture this link between our hearts and minds because of our own ignorant presuppositions. We are fooled into believing that some are less than. We limit the emotive expressions of our heart and thus surround aortic walls with layers of brick and mortar that are seemingly resilient and nearly indestructible. We lose our sensitivities.

But, in the navigation of this complex world and our complex hearts, bridges between heart and mind, self and other, and new levels of consciousness prevail. We have discovered our humanness in relationship.

We are caught. And the world responded to the catastrophe--in fact, we are still responding.

Therefore, earthquakes become a metaphor for our activity as God’s created beings. Earthquakes--people, experience, and emotions that literally rock our world--force us to recognize the fear and uncertainty of our brick-lined hearts. The earthquake transforms, if not destroys, our disconnectedness in order to re-learn that humanity is about togetherness--this, the single garment of destiny.

The mistake, however, is to believe that we need earthquakes, suffering, and physical or natural violence to overcome our distance. To be sure, God did not cause the suffering of God’s people like some religious types prognosticated. Destruction is built with our own hands; we are implicitly guilty in systems of poverty and injustice that produce death.

Even though our society fails to recognize that we are all affected by any injustice, any act of violence against one’s mind, body, or spirit, any act against one’s humanness, there is hope upon which we can rely.

The earthquakes of our minds, hearts, and spirit become the metaphor that provokes the reality of mutuality and reminds us of the fragility of our existence.

Two years later, the rebuilding process continues; buildings reconstructed, roads repaved, crumbled gravel removed. I spent my summer of 2010 as a Communities of Shalom intern (The Theological School at Drew University) working with the community of Mizak near Jacmel. Together we organized, educated, and envisioned a future of peace, reconciliation, and hope. I cannot be what I am without them and my prayer is that they too cannot be what they are without me.

Before the earthquake, two organizations in Mizak, Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI)[1] and Living Media International (LMI)[2], worked to create a systemic, sustainable economy for women and the people of Mizak through art, agriculture, and education. After the earthquake, these two groups of Haitians and North Americans continue in the task at hand but are also about the tedious work of rebuilding the emotion and physical lives of Haitians.

The work continues, and I’ve participated in my own small way by leading groups of teams to Mizak to focus on HIV/AIDS education and awareness, sexual health, and women’s and gender violence. This work is possible because we recognize the importance of mutuality; we have discovered something shared in our humanness and in this way we continue to build the Beloved community of God wherein injustice no longer reigns.

There remains a tenuous line between charity and systemic, sustainable change. We must not be interested in charity because the effects of the earthquake two years ago require more from us in relationship--and, much is still to be done.[3] My only question remains; how long must the material poor of the world teach the Global North about our own humanity and connectedness?

Indeed, we have felt the reverberations that run deep, deep to our core. We cannot ignore these reverberations within the network of mutuality. Our mutuality is inescapable.

Joshua Clough is a 3rd Year Master of Divinity student in The Theological School at Drew University. A native of the Seattle area and graduate of Willamette University he enjoys running, the “great outdoors,” poetry, and writing.