Thursday, November 8, 2012

New Trip. New blog

I have a new blog.  Please go there to check out all my crazy adventures.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Starting a new journey...

I’m leaving for Ecuador in 4 days.  I’ll be moving to Peru in January to work with ICA Peru. This isn’t the beginning, no the beginning of this story goes back to Labor Day at the Cennacle, in Chicago, Il.   It’s been a whirlwind since.  I got back to Texas on September 4, 2012.  I’m leaving Texas, possibly for good, on November 7, 2012.  Just over two months.  My life is being caught up in  the frenetic action of preparing for the move.  Three weeks ago I bought a one way ticket to Ecuador. Two weeks ago I interviewed with my volunteer placement in Ecuador and with my job site in Peru.  Last week I gave away 80% of my clothing.  Yesterday, I sold my car.  I have been going through all the motions of preparing for this move, but I have had little time to emotionally process the changes that will be taking place.  

I spent Labor day weekend in Chicago at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship retreat for young adults.  This weekend was focused on finding your voice - and choosing the way you could be most effective and most faithful to the life you are called to lead.  During this weekend I realized that I needed to make some serious changes in my life.

Right now, I am in Texas where I have a decent job and I have friends and family that really care about me.  I have been living here for three years.  I moved here because this was the place that I was called to be.   I’ve been “looking” for more fulfilling work for more ways to be living out my calling, even as I’m attempting to define and figure out what that calling is.   After my retreat I decided I needed to seriously start the hard work of getting to know myself and where I want to go and be.   

In the middle of this I also got a small amount of money that allowed me to travel for a bit.  I decided to go and learn Spanish and volunteer.  Through my research and connections I was offered a full time position with the ICA Peru.  I hope that this work will be another way that I can continue to be faithful to myself and to the calling to create a better world.   

I’m prepared with just enough belongings to fit in the backpack my uncle gave me.  I have my passport and a plane ticket. I am ready for my journey to begin - but I don’t know what this journey will hold which is why I go.  I am nervous and sad and excited.  I am nervous because of the uncertainty that comes from the unknown; I am sad because I am leaving the friends, family and comforts that I have grown so accustomed to; I am excited about the possibilities that come from living out fully the one wild and precious life I have been given.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I don't want to be scared of the cops, but....

I have never been arrested.  I have all sorts of white, educated, middle-class privilege going on. 

In my life my tendency is to say "Yes" and then figure out if whatever has been asked is possible or reasonable.  This becomes a problematic reaction when you are protesting and there are cops around. The cops will always ask you to stop doing whatever protest you are doing - even when they have no idea what law you are breaking.  If you say "yes" they have won.  But when you say "no" you are risking being arrested. Even when the cops have not mentioned arrest it is a possibility. 

We are protesting in Occupy Austin to remind people that we are a free country.  The complaisance and control that we live under are not "just the way it is".  We have the right, and I daresay, the responsibility to stand up to those that are telling us that we must just put up with destruction of entire planet, increasing poverty, especially among communities of color, attack's on women's rights and the millions that die every day simply because they do not have enough to eat.  Injustice is not "just the way it is".  Injustice is created by humans and justice can be fought for and won by these same humans.  

Yesterday some of formed a somewhat amiable relationship with an Austin Police Department (APD) Officer.  He gave us a "head's up" about a new policy that APD is enforcing.  He referred to it as "Zero Tolerance."  News reports have called it the Public Order Initiative. (You can see one here and other one here).  Last weekend, under this new initiative, APD arrested more than three times the number of homeless people they normally arrest every weekend.  300 of my brothers and sisters spent a night in jail last weekend because they broke a city ordinance which would normally be ticketable, but because of this policy it resulted in them being hauled off to jail. 

It is not clear why APD has started this policy.  Currently in Austin most of the homeless services are downtown - which is also a large scene of night life in Austin.  There are two big events coming up Austin City Limits music festival and the brand new Formula One Race track that will be holding the US Grand Prix in November.  

How can I respond to APD officers that might arrest me if I'm standing in the street instead of on the sidewalk? On a side note, this was the actual example used by the APD officer when he explained how the new policy works. 

I also want to know why the APD won't let us open up our own Tent City since they seem hell bent on getting the homeless out of downtown.  I guess we'll see how it goes tonight.  I'm legitimately scared that I will be arrested for something as minor as jaywalking.  I'm scared of cops now, because I see that sometimes they are enforcing laws designed to oppress us rather than laws to protect us. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Discussing VS. Telling

My Church is doing this awesome series on being a Christian in an Election year.  We've talked about how we, as Christians, approach "politics."   What does it mean for us to be faithful and to be political.  Are the two mutually exclusive?  Where is God calling us in this world?

We have framed the discussion as Christians being Citizens of heaven but also how we are called to pray for cities and places that we end up as we will be blessed if they are blessed (Philippians 3:20 and Jeremiah 29:7).  I know that I do not agree with everyone in my Church about politics.  I felt respected enough to be able to raise questions.  The discussion had been opened with a call for openness and dialogue. 

I want to contrast this open and respectful dialogue that never attempted to endorse candidate or political party with an article I read on Fox News about pastors telling their congregation how to vote.  (Interestingly, the article has been taken down but this video was still up)  This video and the article promote what's being billed as "Freedom Pulpit Sunday."  On October 7 over 1,000 preachers around the country will be openly endorsing candidates for President during their sermons.  This is important  because the IRS requires that all tax exempt 501(c)3 organizations remain non-partisan.  Churches, as tax exempt organizations are required to meet this basic standard.  Endorsing any party or candidate is in violation of this the tax exempt status.  Those that are promoting Freedom Pulpit Sunday believe that this requirement to remain non-partisan is a violation of the separation of Church and State. You can preach whatever you want from the pulpit.  If you endorse a candidate be prepared to lose your tax exempt status.  That's a good thing. Organizations that are openly campaigning for one candidate should not be tax exempt.

Partisan politics is NOT the Gospel.  Neither Romney or Obama shares God's vision for this world. No Church that is holding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ should endorse either of these candidates. The Gospel is so much bigger than Republican or Democrat or even USA. We need to be preaching that from the pulpit, not preaching the Gospel of Conformity to the mainstream media that tells me I have to vote for one of these two candidates that gets somewhere near my values on some items. No, the message of Jesus is liberation from this mindset. Liberation from the world's requirements that we endorse a candidate that they have chosen for us.

This whole Freedom Pulpit Sunday is being used to get around this 60 year old ban on tax free organizations working directly for one party or candidate.  I hope that the pastors that preach on this Sunday will realize that preaching the Gospel of Jesus Crucified is so much bigger than any one election or any one party or any one candidate.  I am blessed that my Church chose the harder, but more inspired, more Jesus-like path.  We are having the conversations about how what it means to be in community together and try to order our lives together in a way that respects all people and creation.  That is what our political discussion looks like - and we are not telling anyone who to vote for (or even to vote!).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'll take that as a compliment

Reading some of the coverage about #S17 (or Occupy Wall Street's 1 year birthday party) I was amazed at the tone that as often struck. 

This article mentioned about 10 times how OWS was a dying movement. Really? You have to write a whole article about how much the Occupy movement is dying.  Is the public supposed to just accept that death myth without question.  Occupy must be dead because on September 17, 2012 only about 160 people were arrested all across NYC.  They couldn't keep the park all night so clearly this is just a dying movement.  Nothing to see here move right along.  I don't buy it.  We had more people at Occupy Austin last night than we have seen in months.  It felt jubilant.  I'm excited to see what year 2 looks like for this movement.

The article I just read, which inspired me to write this, struck a more supportive note.   One comment in particular made me think: “I hate mob rule. We're a republic, not a democracy,” said one perturbed plutocrat who declined to give his name. “Everybody has a right to free speech, but they just want free stuff. Free health care and education.”   It seems like Occupy has gotten it's message across.  Although this was framed as an attack, I'd like to say I take that as a compliment.  This person who works on Wall Street understands that the Occupy movement is fighting to ensure things like health care and education for all.  We do want free stuff - the stuff that people have a right to.  As long as our government, and our society, are putting profit over providing health care and education the Occupy movement will be here. Even those opposed to us know that we are fighting for basic rights.

Really, in a movement that is almost dead, what more can you ask for?  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Education is a right

Here's the striking teachers in Chicago:
Background, the CTU walked off the job on Monday after negotiations fell through with the Chicago Public School Board. 

Many people in the media are saying that the Teachers are already overpaid and not working hard enough so therefore they are harming students by striking when they really need to work harder to make sure the students learn. (Here is an example in the NYT). 

The fact is that in Chicago, the teachers are, by law, limited to only negotiating their salary.  (Here is a really great article that lays out some of these basic facts.) Therefore the other factors like: number of students in the classroom, the amount of support staff (i.e. Social Workers, Librarians, and School Nurses), the amount of standardized testing, how they are evaluated, etc are non-negotiables. The CTU is on strike over salary because legally they have to be.  However the push towards privatization of PUBLIC schools is what this strike is really about.  Chicago, and many other cities and states, are moving towards a school system where parental "choice" is put above providing a good education for ALL.  Privatization is  damaging to students are educators alike.   Public schools are the place where students who are kicked out of private schools or charter schools go.  They are the place where kids go that have no money or way to buy an education.  This strike is forcing us to ask the question: "Is a good education a right or is it something that you have to earn?" My answer is clear - Education is a right.

When we see Education as a fundamental right for all children we begin to understand that funding the educators and the schools that they work in is a moral imperative.  In CPS there are 160 schools that do not have a library.  Only one quarter of the schools have full time arts and music teachers.  Mayor Emmanuel has appointed a School Board that is more interested the bottom line than in students.  Our Public Sector cannot, and should not, be asked to behave like private, for profit, institutions.  There is no profit in educating students with disabilities. There is no profit in teaching students to think critically and challenge the basic assumptions of our society.  There is no profit in learning how to play the violin or learning how to paint.  There is a societal benefit to making sure that everyone has basic abilities and are able to think for themselves.  When we have good public education we are creating the society in which all things are possible and freedom is truly available.  Yet in Chicago, and other places around the country we are violating rights in the name of profit.

The CTU strike is symbolic of where our country is going.  Are we are country that has totally embraced the lie that private corporations, with a goal of increased profit for the already wealthy, have the answer to our social ills?  Or are we a country that believes that some things, like education, health care, and basic dignity, are more important than monetary value? 

The choice is clear and I have decided, that I, must side with the teachers.  Siding with the teachers is siding with the students.  I am siding with those that do not have the money or the ability to buy their education.  I believe that everyone has the right to an education.

Monday, September 10, 2012

God as All Powerful

Today the book of Job was brought up during discussion after Church. The story goes something like this: There had never been a more righteous man than Job.  He was perfect in every way and was blessed with many children, many wives, much cattle and lots of money and houses.  Then one day the Devil and God got into a fight.  The Devil said to God: "Job is only righteous because he has all these blessings - he would curse you if he did not have them."  God turns to the Devil and says "You're Wrong!"  He then proves this by killing all of Job's children, wives, and cattle.  He then gives Job a series of horrible skin afflictions.  All throughout this Job's friends council him to confess what he has done wrong.  Clearly God must be punishing Job for doing something wrong.  Job refuses.  He continues to praise God. In the end Job gets back more than he had before.

Job's friend's clearly believe that Job is at fault because all of his good things were taken away. They are saying: God blesses you with material things for faithfulness and curses you with loss of material things.  This is an old belief but we retool it so that it seems new - seems like it might be a correct belief.  We now say that we can pray our way into prosperity.  If you work hard enough, go to the right Church, donate enough of your money then God will bless you with more money and more things.  This God is a pay to play God.  This God is actually not very powerful.  The fact is that if we have to "earn" our blessings by being pious or by believing the right thing or by saying the right prayer than we are making believe that we are in control of our blessings. 

This Gospel that preaches there are things that you have to do/say/be in order tI had a very interesting lecture after Church today on the relationship between Christians / Christianity / the Church and Politics / US Politics.  I have lots of thoughts on that, but I think I'm going to wait to see how the series plays out before blogging about it.o achieve material blessings is a gospel that makes sense in this world and is easy to believe.  However, it is not the Gospel that is outlined in the Bible or the one that Jesus talked about.  The book of Job clearly illustrates that what happens to us here on earth is not related to our righteousness. We cannot see material wealth or lack thereof as either praising or punishing our faith.  Believing that God rewards our faithfulness with material recompense is heresy.    It may not seem like it but as soon as we begin to believe that our faithfulness will be rewarded with material goods we are taking God's power and claiming it as our own.  God is all powerful.  It is much easier for us to believe that we the have power to affect what happens to us.  God is utterly reponsible.

I will not stop here because we are also utterly responsible.  As individuals we are in complete control of ourselves.  God is responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for living our lives in the most faithful way possible no matter the circumstances.  There is an inherent tension in being a Christian, in believing in God at all.  The tension begins with recognizing that God is completely responsible for our lives. Did I ask to be born as Maryann Philbrook? No.  But here I am.  At the same time I, as an individual, have complete freedom to choose what I do - I am the only one that is responsible for living my life.  This responsibility is overwhelming but with God's grace it is possible be faithful. 

Job's friends didn't get the point.  Job did.  Job knew that God was faithful to him in all situations.  Job was faithful to God in all situations.  Job saw that his responsibility was to be faithful in the situation that he found himself.  

Many people preach the Gospel of salvation through works or salvation through some other means.  I would like to offer that salvation comes through God - through recognizing God's supreme power and by recognizing our supreme power.  We can be God's love here on Earth.  That is a powerful thing to be.