Friday, August 22, 2014

What Sort of People Will We Be? A Reflection on Ferguson and Christian Identity

By Brian Bantum

As a teacher and especially as a theologian I try to help students connect how a community's understanding of who God is connects to the way they see themselves and their world. But inevitably, when we encounter the historical atrocities of the American slave system, Jim Crow, or other global acts of tragic dehumanization and violence, students are overwhelmed. But they also express a curious distance from those historical perpetrators. They say something like this, "Well, surely something like that couldn't happen now, we are not those sort of people." 

But what "sort of people" either justify or ignore the persistent cries of those being dispossessed and persecuted? And herein lies the fundamental problem. The implicit language of what is natural underlines how we view ourselves and others. While a relatively small percentage of individuals owned slaves in the United States, the assumption of what black bodies were, by nature, and what white bodies were, by nature, served to perpetuate the system as part of God's natural order.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Colors of My School

By Sue Dickson

Daviny sat next to me in the school’s cafeteria, her head bent closely to the paper as she bit her bottom lip in concentration. We were in La Aguada, a rural school in the FARC controlled mountains of northwest Colombia. She was showing me that she could write the letters of her name. Her parents do not read or write—but she does. Daviny is nine. She wants to be a teacher. She walks a couple of kilometers on mountain trails to school every day. Violence is part of Daviny’s life. Her older brothers have been recruited by the FARC. When a group of FARC militants showed up at the door of the family’s hut, they knew: they could either join the guerillas or be killed. As Daviny and I worked, one of the brothers was watching us from the edge of the jungle. In another world, at another time, he would have been a student in the school, too. He is fourteen. Now, he was a militant watching from the margins.

The school is three concrete-block rooms, painted bright yellow with blue trim—the colors of Colombia. Large windows look across a grassy field and out over the valley and jungle-wrapped mountains. There are no other buildings in sight. These mountains are exquisitely beautiful and they are exquisitely dangerous for outsiders. They are remote, undeveloped, sparsely inhabited and therefore a perfect hideout for the FARC. In the valley to the north, the paramilitaries remain in control. In the middle of that valley, a military base stands watch. Violence is commonplace.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Peace and Preservation


By Emily Wirtz

Just to piggy-back off of some of the other environmentally-based posts on here, I figure it’s worth discussing why we seem to think “the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim” (of course it was necessary to use a Pocahontas reference). We infect our own environment with pesticides, noxious gases, and waste and then take the good stuff from it—deforestation, city expansion, war destruction—and still expect the world to be a-okay.

[This is no joke. Residents of Toledo are presently warned not to drink the water since it comes out of the water source looking like the image to the left. The cause is an algae bloom in Lake Erie from phosphorus used in farming fertilizers. —Ed.]  

Vanessa Inaru Pastrano, “Inaru,” is a dedicated member of the United Confederation of Taino People, an elder of the Bohio Atabei Council and coordinator of the Peace and Dignity Journey’s Caribbean region. As an indigenous Native American, this Taino woman feels a strong connection to our environment: “Those trees, that grass, those insects all have a language of their own, and just because it’s not English or Spanish doesn’t mean we should ignore it.”

Inaru returned to Ohio to partake in Youngstown’s Taino Summer Solstice ceremony on June 21st, during which I had the opportunity to listen to her talk about her community involvement and environmental passions. Companies like Monsanto that advertise as “sustainable agriculture” yet use harmful pesticides and GMOs in their crop production, she explains, are a big part, but only one part, of the disintegration of Earth’s health.  Sure, “the Earth is going through its natural processes,” she continued, “but we are escalating it.” Waste from ships, deforestation in the Amazon and bombing in the Middle East are a few other issues she feels are “destroying the lungs of the Earth.” We seem to think, she explains, that nothing’s wrong unless we can see it directly affecting us. We ignore the destruction of the Earth because media doesn’t cover it. “We have to think like an Indian. Everything has life and purpose and meaning. Everything on this planet is alive, and the Earth is dying, and we are destroying it.”
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Violence We Want to Hear About

By Craig Hovey

It’s one thing to charge American media sources for being biased in favor of either Israelis or Palestinians (here is one example). But some commentators (like here and here) have been trying to make sense of the fact that Israel-Palestine gets more airtime than other conflicts, that the violence currently in Gaza is prompting much greater American media response, public protest, and analysis than violence in Syria, Ukraine, and northern Iraq. 

One commentator highlights the phenomenon by pointing to the fact that, last weekend, there was a higher death toll in Syria than total casualties so far in Gaza. He also cites a reporter for the Pakistani newspaper Al-Hayat who tweeted about anti-Israel protests in Pakistan but no anti-Syria protests even though Syria has 320 times the death-toll. 


This report (and this analysis) likewise show the relative lack of concern for Syria compared to Gaza, so much so that a Youtube video of Syrian children being used as human shields was largely ignored until it was re-posted with the false claim that it shows Hamas and children in Gaza.


There just seems to be something about the Israel-Palestine situation that consistently registers much more highly for the average American than other current conflicts. A former student of mine remarked that in his town people are wearing pro-Israel or pro-Palestine t-shirts like they are sports fans. 


Contrast this with the situation in northern Iraq. There are stories reporting ISIS’s order of female genital mutilation for the women of Mosel and the rape and murder of Iraqi Christians in Mosel while “the West is silent.” Why the silence?


I worry that no explanation is very flattering. Perhaps Americans are so fed up with Iraq that we simply don’t want to hear about it any more. It could also be that the idea of a persecuted Christian minority is embarrassing for some western believers for whom Christianity is a conquering force, or else is incongruous for western secularists for essentially the same reason, together with the assumption that these conflicts are only about politics and not about religion. 


Still more reasons must include the closer connection many Americans feel with Israel due to the large proportion of Israel that claims European or American ancestry. There is also a cultural connection in which western political and moral ideas such as democracy and how to wage war justly may be thought more plausibly to be expected of Israel compared to Arab nations. These last two points might help explain both opposition to Israeli policies and the prominent place that the Gaza situation has on the radar. We don’t have anti-Syria protests like we do anti-Israel protests because, according to the Al-Hayat reporter, the “only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.” 


It’s of course hard to know how to account for it all, but it strikes me that there is more going on than merely a need for journalistic balance or “equal time.” We actually seem to want to hear about some things and not others. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

By Emily Wirtz

During my short month in Costa Rica—and it was much too short—I had the most incredible experiences, made some crazy friends and met some of the most amazing people. Ultimately, one of my goals while in this beautiful country was to learn more about the peace-keeping environment for which they are known. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with David Kaufman, “Don David,” the director and founder of the Conversa program and Peace Corps member.

After receiving a Spanish degree from Ithica College, Kaufman became a dedicated member of and language instructor in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Then going on to serve as the Spanish Language Coordinator in Puerto Rico, he was inspired to create the programs in Conversa based upon the same values.

Of his time in the Corps, Kaufman was more than eager to discuss. A lot of people are reluctant to join due to an environment foreign and possibly dangerous. “You’ll get frustrated, you’ll get sick,” he
explained, “but they take care of you.” The opportunities within the Corps as Kaufman describes them are endless and open to a variety of experience and skill levels. If a program doesn’t work, it gets adjusted. “The toughest job you’ll ever love” was a life changing experience for this American tico.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Conserva, Conserva - Student Report from Costa Rica

by Josie Schave

“So, in the United States, is it common for people to leave the lights on all the time?”

I blushed as I realized that I had left my room light on, and rose from the couch to go correct the situation.
“No, no, it’s fine—“

“No, no, I—“ My sentence was cut off as I tripped over one of Kevin’s toys. Blushing furiously now, I went to my room and shut off the stupid light. My host dad, Mauricio Cordero, was still sitting in the armchair, laughing at my goofiness. Oh yeah; I guess I should mention that all of this took place in Spanish.

From May 17th through June 14th, I had the immense pleasure of taking part in the AU in Costa Rica program in order to have an authentic immersion experience and obtain credits toward my Spanish major. During this time I stayed with Mauricio Cordero and Laura Calvo Alfaro, and their children Allison (age eight) and Kevin (age four). During my all-too-brief stay in Costa Rica, I realized that Costa Ricans have a true passion for protecting the environment— a passion that I could use some work on. Since the school I was attending was clearly a friend of the environment (one of their logos reads, “Conversa, Conserva”, or “converse, conserve), I decided it would be a logical place to start.

I decided to interview Sergio Álvarez, one of my teachers from Conversa, on the subject of conservation. I had noticed his passion for the environment during my second week at Conversa when he showed all of the students around campus and taught them all about the different trees and plants. The following interview was conducted primarily in Spanish (and secondarily in my third language: Spanglish).

My first question related to the history of conservation in Costa Rica: “Has Costa Rica always been friendly to the environment?” According to Sergio, it hasn’t. Between the 1940s and 1970s, Costa Rica had experienced 70% deforestation. In response to this, reforestation efforts started in the mid-1970s. Since then, 50% of the deforestation has been recovered, and 25% of Costa Rica is part of the system of National Parks and Reserves. Sergio remarked that part of the reforestation efforts had to do with improving tourism.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Hobby Lobby: Private and Public is the Real Issue

By Craig Hovey

The real issue with this week’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision isn’t primarily religion; it is what counts as private and public. Religion is a factor, but only secondarily: religion is private (so is sex); state interests are public. The interesting development that has everyone talking—though it is an extension of the Court’s logic in the Citizens United case of 2010—is that corporations are now not only “persons” with rights, but the freedoms of corporations now include religious liberties on matters of individual conscience. (Some people, playfully, detect a sick irony in the idea that “corporations have a conscience.”) 

But I think all of this is secondary to the real issue of public v. private. 

The pro-choice Roe v. Wade (1973) decision famously asserted or upheld the right to privacy for individuals and backed away from personhood arguments for fetuses. I believe we are now witnessing the pro-life side using both the personhood and privacy arguments in their favor. If a fetus can’t be a person, how about a corporation? If pregnancy is a private matter in which the state has a very limited role, why shouldn’t the “personal conscience” of corporations be safeguarded from the state (in this case, from the mandates of Obamacare)? Some might cynically conclude that all of this rights-talk gets hauled out by either side only whenever it suits them and that this ad hoc deployment of such powerful legal arguments fails to account for how they can be turned around to argue the opposite. (The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre predicted this in his 1981 book After Virtue—“rights” are floating free from more substantive moral traditions). Let’s test this. 

Suppose I have religious objections to war. As a matter of conscience, then, I might also object to whatever portion of my tax dollars that goes to support the Pentagon. Should I be