Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blind Vision

It was almost un-American. About 40 of us walked half a mile down a dirt path into an enclosure with small slits on the west, north and east sides.

Our instructions were clear: no talking, no noise of any kind, no light of any kind, no cell phones – smart or otherwise. Just silence as the daylight faded.

As the sun began to sink, turning the sky brilliant gold then raspberry, we began to see them. They were just silhouettes, black against the ebbing light. At first they were just specks.

Then we could hear them. I loved the sound. To me, it sounded like a bird purr or throat rattle, a fluttery, sort of kar-r-r-o-o-o – in varying pitches and volumes. Then they began to glide down onto the Platte River sandbars -- ten, then twenty, then hundreds. Then hundreds upon hundreds more – magnificent against the sunset.

We resisted the urge to applaud.
Awed, we realized that silence was the only appropriate response

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Selma Sunday in Loveland, CO

March 8, 2015 was "Selma Sunday" -- the 50th anniversary of the long march to Montgomery, Alabama to secure voting rights for all Americans.

In Alabama and across the country people marched or had services commemorating what had happened and reminding all of us that there was a lot more to do.

We had such a service in our church, the Namaqua Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Loveland, Colorado. Loveland is mostly white and mostly conservative. The service featured a video of the Oscar-winning song, "Glory", and the eloquent acceptance speeches of its composers. There was another video of an interview with a minister who was attacked when James Reeb was attacked in 1965 and who had held Rev. Reeb's hand as he lost consciousness (never to regain it).

As a 'worship associate' I read a story about the song, "We Shall Overcome", and gave a short reflection, copied below.

   There were a lot of good things about my dad. He was responsible, honest, hard working, and good looking.

   He also had a derogatory term for every human being who was not a white Anglo-Saxon protestant, and able-bodied, and straight, and reasonably attractive.

   His viewpoint was mirrored by the friends in my parents’ social circles, by the neighborhoods we lived in, by schools and crayons and ‘flesh-colored’ bandages. It was mirrored in derogatory songs and jokes and public entertainment.

   That heritage was the bridge I had to cross. It is a bridge most white Anglo-Saxon protestant people have to cross.

   Slowly – very slowly – I began to acknowledge the value of people of other races. And my own complicity in their marginalization.

   In 2002, I moved here from the most racially/religiously/ ethnically diverse neighborhood in Chicago. Loveland was none of those. Or at least not that I could see.

   We are so good at being oblivious.

   In January 2003, I attended Loveland’s Martin Luther King Day celebration. It was okay … a little disappointing, but okay. There was an essay contest for primary school kids. In 2004, I signed up to help judge the essays. Obviously, some of the kids ‘got it’ … and some just mimicked the guidelines or quoted Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But it was a start.

   With the exception of a couple of years, I have been involved with Loveland’s MLK committee ever since. And beginning last year, that committee has worked to bring Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community’ into Loveland’s consciousness on a year-round basis.

   It’s a bit of a challenge.

   We’re so good at being oblivious to marginalized populations. We simply do not see the people who are marginalized by language or culture or poverty or race.

   But until we do, we will stay on the wrong side of the bridge.

   And until we cross that bridge, nothing will change.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Comparative Civilizations

Eleven years ago, a band of rebels killed more than 120 civilians in a Ugandan refugee camp.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is preparing to try the rebels’ commander for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the survivors of the attack do not want him tried by the ICC. Instead, they say he should be pardoned if he comes to Uganda to confess his crimes and seeks forgiveness in a ritual ceremony.

“From the victims’ perspectives… traditional justice and reconciliation would have been more appropriate than a trial in the Netherlands… They feel that an international trial is not going to change anything tangible.”

I picked up this information from a small article in my local paper (it must have been just the right size to fill a ‘hole’ in the page layout).

It made me think. I remembered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the South African government to deal with the atrocities of apartheid.

I looked up some United States statistics: more than two million people in prison; more than 3,000 persons are on death row. On average, prisoners wait eleven years between the time they are sentenced and the time they are executed. One man was on Florida’s death row for 39 years.

Wouldn’t it be more effective if we were to create our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- a system of confession and forgiveness that could change the course of lives instead of twisting or ending them?