amen!

By a 82-56 margin, the Maryland House of Delegates voted Friday to ban the death penalty in that state. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has pledged to sign it.

“To govern is to choose, and at a time where we understand the things that actually work to reduce violent crime, when we understand how lives can be saved, we have a moral responsibility to do more of the things that work to save lives,” O’Malley said at a news conference.

“We also have a moral responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful, and that are expensive, and do not work, and do not save lives, and that I would argue run contrary to the deeper principles that unite us as Marylanders, as Americans, and as human beings,” O’Malley added.

zero dark thirty misleads about torture

From the National Religous Campaign Against Torture:

Zero Dark Thirty is a work of fiction that depicts graphic acts of torture. The movie’s implication that the use of torture produced critical intelligence is false. In particular, the clues that were essential to the hunt for Osama bin Laden were obtained through humane methods. Torture, in fact, produced false leads that wasted valuable time and staffing.

Read the rest of the article: Zero Dark Thirty: The Facts and the Fiction

thinking about grace

Grace is not license to do whatever we want; grace is freedom to do whatever God wants.

everyone loves a parade

Last Friday evening, I rode in a parade through the streets of downtown Waterloo. I saw some of you along the route: Lee Jensen and all the Prescotts, Kurt Kaliban, and Grant and Klara Hornung. It was a beautiful early summer evening, a great night for a parade.

It was, of course, the My Waterloo Days parade. I rode in a black Toyota convertible with Frieda and Anna Mae Weems, invited to join them as a board member of the Cedar Valley Civil Rights Peace Walk Memorial Committee. This committee exists to promote the development of a Peace Walk memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington Park, to commemorate Dr. King’s visit to Waterloo in 1959 and to serve as a symbol of our community’s commitment to peace in the midst of an often fragmented and divisive society.

Thousands of Waterloo’s residents lined the streets of the parade route, watching and waving and cheering, and it was a thrill for us in the car, having the advantage of moving among all of them, to appreciate the scope and diversity of the crowd. We have a beautiful city! We are an emblem, a case in point, of the melting pot that is our nation. The parade brought together, side-by-side, rich and poor, mayors and street people, young children and old men, African-Americans and Bosnians and Africans and Hispanics and European-Americans. For a few moments, we existed, not in our isolated and separated neighborhoods and working places, but together, all of us sharing a parade, all of us sharing this beautiful summer evening.

It was a glimpse of what we are, as a community, as a people, a glimpse that convinces me all the more of the appropriate purpose of a memorial, a peace memorial to Martin Luther King, and of the honor it would be to have it here, in our neighborhood. Don Damon said he saw me that night in a TV report about the parade. He scolded me because I wasn’t smiling. Sorry, Don! But I am smiling now as I think about that parade and about all the people, all God’s beautiful children, I saw along the way …

not my world

We live in different worlds — still, worlds divided by color, and being divided by color, offering to those who live in them a sharply different range of options and possibilities.

For the past year or so, I have been part of a team working with local African-American parolees, trying to provide them a broader base of support and accountability as they make the transition back to life outside prison. I have come to understand during this brief experience that as a society we are sending them terribly mixed messages. We want them to “reintegrate,” to “rehabilitate,” to keep from re-offending, to get a job, to become responsible, contributing members of our communities, and yet, at the same time, the system, of which we are a part, keeps them from getting jobs, brands them as different and not like the rest of us, treats them as third-class citizens, offers them no realistic path toward reintegration or rehabilitation, not to say, reconciliation.

I read today an article in the latest issue of Christian Century, an interview by Amy Frykholm with Michelle Alexander, author of the 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Here’s a snippet of one of Ms. Alexander’s comments which pointedly illustrates the sort of world my African-American neighbors have to live in …

I believed, for example, that the explosion in our prison population could be explained primarily by poverty, poor schools and broken homes—conventional explanations offered by the media and mainstream politicians. Back then I thought that blacks were more likely to use and sell illegal drugs than whites. I thought that the War on Drugs was aimed primarily at rooting out violent offenders and drug kingpins. I also believed that although life might be difficult for people after they are released from prison, those who worked hard and had self-discipline could make it.

I came to realize that the explosion in our prison population, especially the explosion in the number of blacks in prison, is not driven by crime or crime rates. People of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at the same rates. The War on Drugs does not root out violent offenders. On the contrary, the people who come into the criminal justice system through the drug war are not violent and are arrested on relatively minor drug offenses—the same kinds of offenses that occur frequently in middle-class white communities and are largely ignored.

Those released from prison are trapped in a legal second-class status for life. Finding work is not just difficult after prison; it is downright impossible. Ex-offenders are locked out of the legal economy. They are denied access to public housing; they are denied food stamps. And to make matters worse, they are saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees, fines, court costs—and often the need to pay back child support. Paying all of these fees can be a condition of parole.

I came to see that we have, yet again, created a vast new legal system for racial and social control, a penal system unprecedented in world history—a system that locks the majority of black men in many urban areas into a permanent underclass status. And yet we claim, as a nation, to be colorblind.

conflict and community

Conflict and community are not mutually exclusive. Violence and community are mutually exclusive.

Rachel Simons is a member of a Word Made Flesh team serving God by working with children in Moldova. In her May 2102 newsletter, she suggests that conflict is in fact “a starting point for community, rather than the ingredient that destroys it,” quoting an excerpt from a blog written by psychologist, Kelly Flanagan:

I think we assume communities are comprised of like-minded people, so we believe in order to preserve community — a marriage, a friendship, a collegiality, a church — we must be like putty, changing our beliefs to match the beliefs of others, or conversely, convincing everyone to believe what we believe. But perhaps an authentic community is a group of people with a vast array of opinions and differences that range from semantics to fundamental incompatibilities in worldview. Yet they are a people commmited to living in the tension, refusing the tempation to do violence to the other’s philosophy or worldview. They have decided they will value people and the stories those people are telling, above feeling perfectly at ease, or right, or validated.

We need to hear such words in a world where we so easily divide into camps and where hostility has become the norm in any kind of dialogue between camps. We must choose another way. We must live another way.

We live with each other, refusing to do violence to each other. We choose to value people, to value each other’s stories, not at the expense of our own stories, but alongside our own stories. We are validated not by common consent, but by Christ. Christ brings us together. Christ holds us together. Nothing else. Nothing else can!

“miah and friends”

Watch a video recording of the finale from the “Miah and Friends” organ recital performed at First Congregational United Church of Christ on April 29. The piece is “Maestoso” from “Organ Symphony No. 3″ by Camille Saint-Saens. Miah Han plays organ, accompanied by timpani and a brass quintet.

The concert provided all of us who shared the afternoon with Miah an experience of extraordinary richness and beauty. When she finished playing Buxtehude’s “Prelude and Fugue in G Minor,” I told myself, “That is going to be my favorite of the program.” Then she played Franck’s “Choral No. 2 in B Minor,” and I decided that was my favorite. And then she played “Messe de la Pentecôte” by Olivier Messiaen and I knew that was my favorite!

The music from beginning to end was dazzling and moving and awe-inspiring. The program was well-designed, providing moments that were in turn meditative and exuberant and whimsical. The “friends” Miah gathered added to the joy of the afternoon: brass players and a timpanist, a soprano soloist and, of course, her husband, Taemin. Their organ/piano duets were a highlight of the program, her impeccable musicianship matched by Taemin’s remarkably clean and technical and passionate playing.

To view videos of the other pieces on the concert program, go to Taemin’s YouTube channel: Taemin’s YouTube Channel.