Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

For Molly: Reflections on the Water #1

Dear Molly:

Tonight (30 Sept. 2007), you were baptized, immersed in water and faith.  We’ve talked much about what that means:  You have expressed faith in Christ, love for God, and a desire to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And this is serious stuff, girl.  The famous theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer lived in Germany, long before concerns about inclusive language–what he said was meant for the calling of women, too.  For Bonhoeffer, this became very literal:  He was hung by the Nazis in Flossenberg just days before the camp was liberated by the Allied troops–and he died praying for his enemies.

In saying “Yes” to God’s offer of salvation in Christ, we die to sin, die to living our own lives by our own rules, die to “being our own person.”  We are raised to a new life–a life in which we belong to Christ.  Because we belong to Christ, we are expected to follow after Him as active disciples.  We are to study and meditate on Christ’s teachings in the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and we are to seek ways to live them out in our lives.  You have already begun this by refusing, back in grammar school, to say the Pledge of Allegiance as a violation of Jesus’ ban on oaths.  You were teased by your peers and pressured by school officials to change your mind, but, with the full support of your parents and church, you stayed your ground.  So, you already know that being a Christ-follower will make you different–in ways that are not always comfortable.

Unlike a Muslim girl with a headscarf or a Jewish boy with a yarmulke, this difference that being a Christian makes will not usually be visible to the naked eye.  With a few exceptions, we Christians wear the normal clothes of our particular cultures–within reason.  Because we believe in modesty and believe that the human body is not to be a constant advertisement for sex, we usually will wear more modest clothes than some others do.  But we have no Christian “uniform.”  For people to see the difference God makes in your life, they will have to watch your actions–and they will whether you want them to or not.

When you were nominated for the People to People Student Ambassador program (before we realized we couldn’t afford for you to participate), we talked about what it would mean for you to go to another country as a citizen-ambassador for America, remember?  Well, as a baptized follower of Jesus, you are now an Ambassador for Christ–all the time, for the rest of your life.  Your words and actions will reflect on Christ and the cause of Christ–for good or ill. (Remember the time we were “flipped off” by the driver of a car with a bumper sticker that said, “Follow Me to 1st _____Church of ____?”)

People will make decisions about Jesus and about Christianity based on what they see in you, if they know you are a Christian.  Are your words honest?  Do your words run people down or build them up? When you must give criticism, as we all must from time to time, is your criticism helpful or just nasty? Does your heart burn with compassion and yearn for justice?  Do you strive to make peace with your enemies? When people observe your buying habits, do they see someone obsessed with fashion, glitter, glamour and owning things–or do they see someone concerned to live simply so that they help others and the earth? 

Is all this heavy and serious? Yes, but no one is perfect at it–least of all me.  And this is also a time of joy and delight.  And your mother and I and your church family are delighted and rejoice with you.

Love, Papa.

[In part II, I reflect more on the nature of baptism itself.]

October 1, 2007 Posted by | baptism | 4 Comments

Book Review: In Defense of Our America

romerobook.jpgI read many books on politics, but few which move me to tears.  I also read very few political books that, instead of having a dry pedantic tone, read like a fast-paced, contemporary adventure novel.  In both instances, this is one of the few exceptions.  I picked up In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror by Anthony D. Romero and Dina Temple-Raston after I had seen Romero interviewed on Bill Moyers’ Journal on the Public Broadcasting System.  I expected it to be a good book; I did not expect it to be the gripping tour de force that it is.

Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.  The ACLU is the oldest non-governmental organization in the U.S. dedicated to upholding the civil liberties and human rights defined in the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  It was founded during World War I to defend the rights of conscientious objectors and other dissenters from the government’s war policies.  Since that time the ACLU and its crack legal team has defended many unpopular defendants and causes in its defense of the Bill of Rights.  Romero is the first Latino and the first openly gay man to head the ACLU–and he took that post just 1 week before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Great timing, no?

Dina Temple-Raston is a journalist and writer who has been a foreign correspondent in China, Hong Kong, and was a White House reporter during both Clinton administrations.  She has won awards for her previous books, A Death in Texas and Justice on the Grass.

This book is not about the ACLU per se, although the stories are drawn from cases the ACLU has been involved with since 9/11.  Rather, the book is about ordinary Americans and their struggles for liberty and fairness.  It includes the true story of John Walker Lindh (the “American Taliban” whom former Atty Gen. John Ashcroft used to justify every draconian measure adopted in the “war on terror”), a quiet, sensitive California boy who converted to Islam and traveled to Yemen and Pakistan in order to study Arabic and become a Qu’ranic scholar; who became convinced of the need to join the Afghan army in order to fight the Northern Alliance (at the time, the U.S. was giving economic aid to the Taliban to fight the Northern Alliance and classifying the latter as a terrorist group–which would be reversed quickly after 9/11), who was naive about the Taliban and had no idea that they were harboring al-Qaeda or who Osama bin Laden was.  Lindh was captured in 2002, tortured, and charged with aiding terrorists and had to make a plea arrangement to get 40 years in prison.  This is his true story and that of his parents.

It’s also the story of prisoners who survived drowning in Katrina spending months in prison because no one had any records of who was where.  Their crimes? Some were in prison simply for failure to pay traffic tickets.  It’s the story of student war protesters being spied on by the U.S. government as “credible threats,” and high school science teachers striving not to be forced to give equal time to the pseudo-scientific theory of Intelligent Design.  And much, much more.

You may not agree with the ACLU’s position on all cases–I don’t and I’m a member–but threats to civil liberties and the struggles to protect those liberties have never seemed so real.  The issues can seem abstract, but these case studies are told in such a way that we see how high the stakes are.  In our post-9/11 world we seem ready to give up everything that makes us America for the sake of physical security.  Fear is driving our agenda–because we are no longer the home of the brave, we may soon cease to be the land of the free, as well.

The good news is that the ranks of the ACLU and other civil and human rights groups have swollen multiple times since 9/11.  The good news is that many Americans are refusing the Faustian bargain of giving up liberty to obtain security. As Ben Franklin once said, those who make that trade deserve neither security nor liberty.  The good news is that reading this book not only shows dramatically what is at stake, but energizes the reader for the struggle.

October 1, 2007 Posted by | books, civil liberties, human rights., politics | 1 Comment