31 December 2011


Here’s an update from a local group of the Occupy movement.  (Thanks for permission to reproduce it.)  I agree with almost every word.  The tone is a little darker than I would use, but I can understand the sentiment.  (Also, it was devised on my birthday!)
The Declaration of Occupy Elmira/Corning
Consented to by General Assembly December 14, 2011
We have been captives of corrupt economic and political systems for far too long. The concentration of wealth and the purchase of political power stifle the voices of the increasingly disenfranchised 99 percent. Corporate dominance subverts democracy, intentionally sows division, destroys the environment, obstructs the just and equitable pursuit of happiness, and violates the rights and dignity of all life.
Occupy Elmira/Corning is an open community of diverse individuals, facing different forms of oppression and impacted by economic exploitation to differing degrees, but united by a shared vision of equality for the common good. The harsh economic conditions that have plagued the poor, working class, and communities of color for generations have begun to affect the previously financially secure. This acute awareness of our common fate has united us in our struggle for a better future. We recognize that inequality and injustice systemically affect every aspect of our society: our communities, homes, and hearts. To build the world we envision, we commit ourselves to overcoming our personal biases so we can successfully challenge systems of oppression in solidarity.
 We are assembled because…
  • It is absurd that the 1 percent has taken 40 percent of the nation’s wealth including through exploiting labor, outsourcing jobs, destructing unions, committing fraud, and manipulating the tax code to their benefit through special capital tax rates and loopholes. The system is rigged in their favor, yet they cry foul when anyone even dares to question their relentless class warfare.
  • Candidates in our electoral system require huge sums of money. These contributions from multi-national corporations, special interest groups, and wealthy individuals destroy responsive representative governance. A system of backroom deals, kickbacks, bribes, and dirty politics overrides the will of the people. The rotation of decision makers between the public and private sectors cultivates a network of public officials, lobbyists, and executives whose aligned interests do not serve the constitutional government or the American people.
  • Candidates are elected via plurality rather than majority causing a two-party system which overlooks public interests by pursuing narrow political goals. This climate encourages candidates to polarize voters for individual power and personal gain. Citizens’ meaningful input has been compromised by gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement, and unresponsive politicians.
  • The 1 percent benefits from economic, political, and legal structures that oppress communities targeted by displacement, forced homelessness, denial of sovereignty, wage slavery, and other injustices. These persecuted but resilient communities continue to suffer through generations of disproportionately higher rates of unemployment, poverty, criminalization, and homelessness. Facets of the 1 percent campaign to blame these groups for these problems while obstructing healing and restoration.
  • Those with power have divided us from working in solidarity by perpetuating historical prejudices and discrimination based on perceived race, religion, political affiliation, immigrant or indigenous status, income, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability, among other things. These divisions have inhibited our ability to work in solidarity, though today we recognize the power of uniting as the 99 percent.
  • Through financial speculation and fraud, several financial institutions gambled with our savings, homes, and economy causing the collapse of the financial system. These institutions then required the public to bail them out of their failures yet they continue to deny any responsibility and continue to fight oversight. Corporations loot from those whose labor creates society’s prosperity, while the government allows them to privatize profits and socialize risk.
  • Corporate interests threaten life on Earth by extracting and burning fossil fuels and resisting the necessary transition to renewable energy and sustainable life. Without public oversight drilling, mining, clear-cutting, overfishing, and factory farming destroys the land, jeopardizes our food and water, and poisons the soil with near impunity. They privilege polluters over people by subsidizing fossil fuels, blocking investments in clean energy and efficient transportation, and hiding environmental destruction.
  • Private corporations, with the government’s support, use common resources and infrastructure for short-term personal profit, while stifling efforts to invest in public goods. These corporate entities have a responsibility to the indigenous people and the society in which they exist and rely on.
  • The U.S. government engages in unnecessary, costly conflicts abroad. Numerous acts of conquest have been, and continue to be, pursued to control resources, overthrow foreign governments, and install subservient regimes. These wars destroy the lives of innocent civilians and American soldiers, many of whom suffer adverse effects throughout life. These operations are a blank check to divert money from domestic priorities.
  • Government authorities cultivate a culture of fear to invade our privacy, limit assembly, restrict speech, and deny due process. They have failed in their duty to protect our Constitutional rights. Used by profiteering interests, the criminal justice system has unfairly targeted marginalized communities and outspoken groups for prosecution rather than protection.
  • The commodification of culture subverts social relationships and communication and warps our perception of reality. It cheapens and mocks the beauty of human thought and experience while promoting excessive materialism as the path to happiness. The entertainment industry is manipulated to distract the public from the important issues of society. We condemn the corporate news media which furthers the interests of the very wealthy, distorts and disregards the truth, and confines our imagination of what is possible for ourselves and society.
  • Some leaders are implicitly or explicity trading our rights to quality basic needs in exchange for handouts to the ultra-wealthy. Our rights to healthcare, education, food, water, and housing are sacrificed to profit-driven market forces. They are attacking unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, creating an uncertain future for us all, especially those who can least afford it.
  • Class-warfare has been engaged upon the working class through deconstruction of unions and worker benefits. The right to collectively bargain for fair wages, safe work places, and employee rights needs to be defended and enforced. Workers deserve the right to quality healthcare at an affordable rate and the ability to retire with dignity through a pension fund and social security benefits.*
A better world is possible.

To all people,

We, the Elmira/Corning General Assembly, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble and reclaim the commons. Re-conceive ways to build a democratic, just, and sustainable world.

To all who value democracy, we encourage you to collaborate and share available resources.

Join your voice with ours and let it amplify until the heart of the movement booms with our chorus of solidarity.

*These grievances are not all inclusive.

25 December 2011

Christmas (is just beginning)

After a worship service of lessons and carols this morning, Banu and I are preparing for a Christmas dinner.  Tomorrow morning, we set out to visit my mother in Tennessee.

Some may say that we missed being with her for Christmas.  I would respond by noting that, according to our plans, we will be with her for most of Christmas!  We don’t celebrate our Savior’s birth the way the commercials—with their frantic rat race approach—insist.  Take a deep breath…and relax.  We have eleven more days to celebrate. 

(The image is “Nativity” by He Qi.)

09 December 2011

small steps

Tomorrow is Human Rights Day.  Politically, there hasn’t been a great deal of difference between the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama on that front.  The language has changed, but the actions are sadly much the same.  One might argue that the security state apparatus has become even more comprehensive since Obama took office.

Still, words do matter.  And so, I was happy about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech last Tuesday in Geneva.  In affirming gay rights, LGBT rights, as human rights, she elevated it as an issue that the entire world needs to responsibly address.

Ecclesiastically, my church denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), earlier this year removed the barrier to the ordination to ministry of gay men and women.  When our presbytery voted on the measure in March, I was happy that we had taken this small step.  But I am aware that there are many who fear that this represents a surrendering of faith.  (I spoke a little about that in the post.) 

I believe that many of our problems stem from the ways we deal with fear.  Fear of “the other” causes us to accuse, to hate, to torture.  It takes love and courage to continue with the small steps.

26 November 2011

let me in to exist

I’m about two-thirds of the way through John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Let Me In.  The original Swedish is actually translated as Let the Right One In, which is the name of the excellent vampire movie done in 2008.  The English-language version released last year was surprisingly good, considering the high bar set by the initial movie.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the novel.  As usually happens when these things are made into screenplays, there is much that is left out:  various storylines, thoughts of the characters, commentary by the novelist, and so on.  One of the commentaries by Lindqvist concerns Oskar, the twelve-year-old who is the target of bullies.  This is an element that exists completely independent of its being a vampire story.

When two of the bullies are harassing him in the restroom, Lindqvist notes, “He had put his hand up in class, a declaration of existence, a claim that he knew something.  And that was forbidden to him.  They could give a number of reasons for why they had to torment him; he was too fat, too ugly, too disgusting.  But the real problem was simply that he existed, and every reminder of his existence was a crime.” (10)

Much later in the book, after Oskar has learned some terrible truths about Eli, we’re told that “the thought ran through his head over and over:  I don’t exist.  I don’t exist.” (308)

When I was young, at about the age of Oskar in the book, I was terribly shy.  I was so shy that, at times, I felt like I wasn’t even a real person.  Other people lived life so easily.  Other guys had conversations with girls they really liked!  After painful years as a teenager, I eventually came to understand that it’s okay to be the person I am.  It’s something we all have to face.  Everyone has their own grappling with what it means to be a person—what it means to exist.

In his book, On the Threshold of Transformation, Richard Rohr offers this:  “Have you ever met a man who didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin?…Consider the possibility that, as a child, when that person first came into the world, he was not given the first permission—permission to exist.

“Many people have never been given this foundational permission—either spoken or unspoken.  No one ever held their face, looked into their eyes, and said, ‘Welcome to the world, dear little one.  I’m so happy you’re here, that you exist.  I love you.’” (58) 

That is a permission that I was given.  From my earliest memories of life, I have known that I was loved; I was given permission to exist.

10 November 2011

o captain, my captain

You need not be a fan of the Star Trek franchise to enjoy and find value in the movie The Captains (2011).  I must admit that I expected a film written and directed by William Shatner to be a relatively cheesy excuse for why Captain Kirk was the best of what Gene Roddenberry could produce.  But I’ll leave that for others to debate.

What impressed me about the movie was what extended beyond the Star Trek world.  I commented to my wife Banu that either Shatner really cared about what his interviewees thought, or he was very good at pretending that he cared.  (I believe it to be the former, based on the couple of interviews I saw he conducted on his show, Raw Nerve.)  He delved into the lives of Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine.  Some of the conversations get pretty personal:  talks about (failed) marriages, dreams and careers, and even God. 

Listening to them talk about their lives, I felt a sense of rapport as a pastor.  Still, I suppose that my interest wasn’t hindered by the fact that I’ve been a Star Trek fan since my earliest memories of life.

27 October 2011

breathe the air

I’ve watched the first few episodes of Terra Nova.  I haven’t yet decided if I like it.  But the show does have an interesting premise.  In the 22nd century, Earth’s atmosphere has become so polluted that the human race itself appears doomed.  However, at the aptly-named Hope Plaza, a rift in spacetime has been discovered.  (Pictured below.)  Entering the portal allows travel to 85 million years in the past.  There is no possibility of those in the past altering the future, because the rift opens to an alternate timeline.  (That’s a nice way to keep the show plausible!)

The show centers on the Shannon family.  The mother (played by Shelley Conn) is a medical doctor, and the father (played by Jason O’Mara) is an ex-cop and prison escapee.  (I won’t go into the details about that.)

What I found especially interesting in the first episode is the scene in which O’Mara’s character emerges from the portal into the world of 85 million years ago.  He has difficulty breathing; it looks like he’s having an asthmatic attack.  His wife, the doctor, understands what’s happening.  She yells out, “He’s going into hyperoxic shock.  CO2 infuser, now!”  His lungs aren’t used to having so much fresh air.  He needs a little carbon dioxide to make the adjustment.

The symbolic parallels to our own lives are numerous.  We can become so accustomed to a toxic atmosphere that, when we’re exposed to clean air, we can’t handle it.  We can be so enmeshed in a poisonous environment that we believe we’ll die without the toxins with which we’re familiar.  We drink venom as though it were pure water. 

We just have to hold on and breathe the air!

18 October 2011

goodbye, little prince (28 Dec 1996-17 Oct 2011)

Yesterday, we had to euthanize our Shetland Sheepdog, Duncan.  He was two months away from his 15th birthday.  We had known for about the past year that he was nearing the end.  He was no longer able to walk with the stride that Banu early on thought of as “royal.”  When we wanted to talk about him without getting his attention, we would use the third person, as in “the dog,” “the Sheltie,” or, going back to the way he would walk, “the prince.”  Finally, on Sunday night, he lost the ability to walk at all.

The top photo is one I have called “Handsome Man Duncan.”  This is from our time in Jamestown.

The next three are from his time as a puppy, when we lived in Nebraska.  The top one shows him gazing into space.

Here he is, abandoning his leash and playing some nighttime basketball on the half-court behind our house.

Finally, a sleepy puppy is yawning at Banu, telling her it is bedtime!