Sunday, February 28, 2010

Catastrophe and resilience

Yesterday an 8.8 earthquake struck the coast of Chile, and the consequences are still shaking the world. The day before that I received word that doctors had given up hope that my dear friend Anita could beat her cancer. Go home, they said; put your papers in order, call hospice, gather your family. Catastrophe on global and personal levels. I find myself among those reeling from the news.

This morning I have been reading Revelations 19 and 20, along with Eugene Peterson’s commentary, Reversed Thunder. The background is catastrophe, the judgments of Revelations 15-18. The topic is salvation. The images are a meal and a war. And, from Peterson’s perspective, the time is now, not some future scenario of the end of the world.

I think Peterson is right. God is now moving forward with his mission of salvation, both in the ordinary personal realm of life (the meal, with Anita), and in the cosmic fight against all sorts of evil (war, in Chile). I love the way the two images come together in the 23rd Psalm: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

I’m thinking this morning of the many meals we’ve shared with Anita and her family. Much of our friendship—talking together on subjects that matter, praying, laughing at our kids’ antics, reading poetry—has taken place around the dinner table.

For the last year and a half, I’ve engaged in warfare on Anita’s behalf. Hal and I have joined with Don, Anita’s husband, and many others to plead for her healing. She’s gone through many procedures and even experiments to try and beat this. How do we take this latest news? Don encourages us to continue our prayers for healing, and I do. I also cry out, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy. Have mercy. Have mercy.”

I’m thinking of my students—and friends—Dino and Luis, who live in Santiago. I pray for them and I wonder. Are they safe? Are they well? I imagine their reactions at 3:30 Saturday morning, and I pray their houses are still standing, their children comforted.

Luis is a poet, a pastor and a psychologist, a person who lives to comfort and strengthen his people. The word “resilience” comes to mind. Luis is passionate about this concept. As a pastor in Santiago’s main penitentiary, he has observed how when prisoners become Christian, they seem better able to “bounce” back in terms of facing their future with hope. Resilience. In fact, Luis is proposing to center his doctoral research on the intersection of spirituality and resilience, a topic that is now, more than ever, appropriate for Chile.

I’m thinking that it is in Christ alone that we are able to face catastrophe with resilience—catastrophe on the personal level, catastrophe that affects entire nations. I struggle to frame my response to Anita, to Luis and Dino and their country. And I continue to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

"El menos malo"

Hal and I have spent these last two weeks in San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s been an intense time as we’ve helped facilitate the seminars that are a part of the Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology (PRODOLA).

The fellowship and camaraderie among our colleagues (both students and faculty) has become a highlight of these twice yearly experiences together. But another important aspect is the place of our encounters. This time it’s been Costa Rica, a small country bordered by two oceans—a place of beauty and tranquility.

Our time in San Jose just happened to coincide with national presidential elections. Having experienced this in Bolivia and, more recently, in the US, we were curious as to how this would be carried out in Costa Rica.

“Fascinating” seems like a weak word to describe the event. The week leading up to the actual day of voting (coinciding with our first week of intensive classes) bubbled over with colorful and noisy campaigning in the media and in the streets. Voting fell on the Sunday between our classes, and as we rode the bus to the Methodist Church were we worshipped that day, and later to the restaurant (chicharrĂ³n!), the bus driver had to skillfully weave in and out of the lines of cars in parade, all honking, party flags waving from the windows. We passed crowds gathered at all the public schools, where the actual voting took place. The whole atmosphere was one of fiesta—a huge public celebration!

(My Tico—ie., Costa Rican—friends tell me that about 70% of the population actually votes. That in itself is something worth celebrating.)

A certain detail out of the whole event caught my attention. One of the three presidential candidates ran with the political slogan of, “Vote por el menos malo,” referring to himself. A dynamic translation would be, “Vote for me, the lesser of three evils.” It became a joke among us, but our Tico companions seemed a bit embarrassed. Correcting governmental corruption was indeed an issue, but the cynicism of such a platform surprised me.

“El menos malo.” I guess there are situations where the way forward really seems to be the lesser of two evils. We don’t inhabit a perfect world, and circumstances of injustice, accident, illness or downright evil can force choices where either way we seem to lose.

Right now the Spirit is reminding me that God promises his children that, whatever situation we find ourselves in, God will work it out for the best, both for us and for the accomplishment of his missional purposes in the world (Ro. 8:28).

We don’t live by the rule of “el menos malo.”

Post script: “El menos malo” did not win. Costa Rica now has its first woman president, Laura Chinchilla.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Minute on immigration reform: North Valley Friends Church

The Friends custom of making “minutes” on current social issues encourages a congregation to think through the complexities. It’s an exercise in deep listening on three levels: listening to the context, listening to each other, listening to the Spirit. While not an easy process, it pushes us to grow.

Such has been the experience of North Valley Friends Church. Many of us in this faith community have relationships with Latinos in our area, some as businessmen, others as teachers and school administrators, all of us as neighbors. The concern for fair and humane treatment, in the face of what seem to be growing injustices, has been gradually increasing among us.

The formation of an “immigration task force” on the yearly meeting level has prodded us. In fact four members of the North Valley congregation have become active in this volunteer group that is seeking to make a difference through information, education, advocacy, and other concrete activities. We’re still finding our way forward.

So, why a minute? That was my first question. Now at this end of the process, I see value in the way it has helped us as a community explore and express our concern. The whole process took three months and involved a small group of people in writing the rough draft (parts of which we borrowed from recent affirmations on immigration reform published by the National Association of Evangelicals and the Friends Committee on National Legislation). The input of many people in two business meetings turned the initial draft from the concern of a few into the expression of the whole church.

We will now use this minute as the foundation for whatever future actions the church decides to take. We are already in a relationship with a new Latino Friends congregation, and are seeking ways to strengthen that tie. We hope to use the minute as we visit the offices of legislators. We plan to publish it in various venues (such as this blog post). And we hope this minute encourages other meetings to take similar steps.

Here is minute itself:

North Valley Friends Church,
Minute on Immigration, January 2010

The community of faith known as North Valley Friends Church in Newberg, Oregon seeks to value and reach out to persons of all races, cultures and social classes. We have a special concern for people marginalized by the dominant culture in the United States. This concern includes the large number of Hispanic/Latino persons in the Northwest, both documented and undocumented. We note the contributions these people are making to the economy and culture of our area, as well as the hardships and discrimination they often face. We recognize that, historically, immigrant status is a shared experience of many people within the United States.

Our concern has a biblical/theological foundation in the creation of human beings in the image of God (Gn. 1) and the dignity that confers on every person. The Bible itself is a book of immigrant stories, including the Old Testament account of the people of God. The Law of Israel makes provision for the care of “strangers in the land,” with reminders that the people themselves were once foreigners in Egypt(Ex. 22:21; Lev. 19:33-34), that immigrants are especially vulnerable and in need of care, and that God loves the foreigner (Deut. 10:18-19). The New Testament adds the concept of the church as a community of sojourners on this earth (Phil. 3:20; 1 Pt. 2:11). Christians are admonished to offer compassion and hospitality to outsiders (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2).

Because of these concerns and our relationships with Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in our community and throughout Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (Oregon, Washington and Idaho), we at North Valley Friends Church believe there is a need for reform of the current immigration system. We recognize the complexity of the issues surrounding immigration, the importance of national security, and the need for humane treatment of the persons caught in the dilemmas of lack of legal documentation. We see these as moral, as well as spiritual, issues.

We affirm the need for the following:

· That safeguarding and monitoring of the national borders be carried out in a humane fashion and with respect for human dignity;

· That our government establish more functional legal mechanisms for the annual entry of a reasonable number of immigrant workers and families;

· That our government recognize the central importance of the family in society by reconsidering the number and categories of visas available for family reunification, and therefore dedicate more resources to reducing the backlog of cases in process, as well as reevaluating the impact of deportation on families;

· That our government support a refugee and asylum policy that offers meaningful assistance for all of those displaced by conflict, oppression, environmental change, natural disaster, and economic destitution;

· That our government establish a sound, equitable process toward earning legal status for undocumented immigrants already in-country, who desire to embrace the responsibilities and privileges that accompany citizenship.

We call upon leaders in all levels of government to take seriously the need for the reform of the immigration system so that it can begin to reflect the values of freedom, human dignity and opportunity our country was founded upon.