Monday, July 25, 2016

Holy NOLA Batman! or the man who changed my life.

So, because my cuz encouraged me to write some of my stories, I thought I would post what had initially been a Facebook post about registering voters in Youngstown Ohio in 2008. Yes, this story is true, but really I just gave the bare bones. The following is my initial post:

'Let me tell you about a man I was blessed to be able to register to vote in Ohio in 2008. He said he couldn't because he was a felon, Ohio law allowed him to vote. So there he was, with his daughter cheering him on, a crowed of unknown on lookers supporting and encouraging him, hands trembling as he registered to vote for the first time in 12 years. He cried as he signed his name and said it was the first time in 12 years that he felt like an American. Don't tell me your vote doesn't count, don't tell me it's unimportant, don't tell me it doesn't matter, that one vote doesn't count, to be able to participate in our democracy *always* counts, it always matters, it is always important. To that gentleman, I hope you voted in every election since, I hope you brought your daughter, I hope you know that you've raised your daughter right, and most of all I hope you know that your act of faith, in me - that I was telling the truth, that I would deliver your voter registration card, that I would fight to ensure you could vote - in our republic, and your courage to claim your right as a citizen has stayed with me. I still remember you, I still pray for you, and I still thank God that I was the one that had the honor to register you to vote.'

This took place outside the public aid office in Youngstown, and as another cuz pointed out, it's not just about voting, it is also about employment. You see, in our office we didn't have a problem with someone having a criminal record - for the most part - non-violent crimes, addiction issues, we had standards that you had to meet, but it didn't automatically bar you from employment. We paid $8 an hour, which was enough for one of our canvassers to live independently - which says quite a lot about both job opportunities in Youngstown, as well as the general state of the economy in Youngstown at the time. They were good hard working people, people who had made mistakes and spent the rest of their lives paying for it. They were reminded of their mistakes every time they applied for a job and didn't get it, they were reminded of their mistakes every time they had to apply for public aid - because they couldn't get jobs - because they had made a mistake. Or perhaps it wasn't a mistake - perhaps to them it seemed like their only option, which is a different post, but one that will intersect with this one.

The worst part about barring employment based on a criminal history (and I freely admit there are exceptions, I wouldn't hire a former addict to be in charge of meds, not only does that put me at risk legally, but more importantly it may put their sobriety at risk, nor would I hire an embezzler to be my accountant - so there are practical considerations) is that they see it in their children, and it becomes generational (it is also heavily racialized, but again a different intersecting post). 
The trauma poverty causes is a public health issue -both the IMF and WHO consider poverty a public health issue, and if you limit the search to the just studies done in the U.S. the amount of research is still staggering. It doesn't just impact "poor people" it impacts our economy by negatively impacting the potential of our children and their future earnings, and it impacts us for generations. It is almost impossible to climb the socio-economic ladder - if you doubt me read Class Matters, and this really is where we are failing as a nation; America is not the land of opportunity if you become impoverished, or are born into poverty. Loans have a higher interest rate, it costs more for internet (important for looking for jobs), there is no such thing as affordable housing -which according to HUD is 30% of less of gross income - outside of the housing authority and it can take years to get into HA housing, in many states insurance is still prohibitively expensive - not necessary more expensive under the affordable care act, just still out of reach, and transportation is an issue. So now you can't afford gas to get to work because your rent is 50% of your income, or you lose your job because you're sick because you don't have working heating and your landlord won't pay to have it fixed, and it spirals - and the entire time people are telling you that if you just worked harder... how hard do you have to work? God knows, and so do the rest of us that black men are disproportionately arrested and sentenced, which means they are disproportionately disenfranchised and unemployable, and a side hustle can get you killed, so clearly working harder isn't really the answer (and hey! there's that intersectionality again!).
Poverty needs to be eliminated by ensuring a criminal record does not automatically disqualify someone from gainful employment (see http://bantheboxcampaign.org/ for more information) , full enfranchisement, a deep investment in schools, access to school lunches and breakfasts year round, and finally free higher education at public schools (I should note this is by no means a complete list). These are just some of the ways we can work to eliminate poverty, and I'm advocating this for a number of reasons. Theologically I believe that in order to 'Love [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves]' we must invest in our neighbors, practically I believe in ending the cycle of poverty because I want the best doctor treating my family, not merely the best doctor that was raised without the trauma of poverty, not merely the best doctor that could afford the proper schooling, and meals. There are practical reasons, but more importantly these are people made in the image of God, they shouldn't be limited by our failings as a society.  


Pax all. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bold enough

I am angry, and I am hurting, and it has taken this long to put into words how I feel about the attacks on Beirut, and Paris. It took anger, anger at the leaders of our state governments to act as a catalyst; anger, frustration, and pain.

I was always one of those strange children, just ask my friends. Whenever we got one of those stupid writing prompts 'If you could go back in time...' My top two answers were that I wanted to visit Beirut when it was still known as the Paris of the Middle East, and I wanted to watch the 1980 Olympic Hockey games. Beirut captured my imagination when I was a child, and Paris has an inexplicable emotional link, primary through my mother and her stories of my Great Aunt.

Today Gov. Abbot signed a letter to President Obama stating that Texas was not willing to house anymore refugees from Syria, and I got angry. Not only were these two cities, two cities of light, attacked, but the very people fleeing those who had attacked these cities were now being persecuted because of the land of their birth.

Yesterday the children led the service, and one of the hymns was Here I am Lord. I mention this because there is a line in the hymn  'I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone'. My heart is breaking, and tonight my only pray is this:

Lord, Grant us the courage to be bold enough to offer the same grace offered by Egypt to your son.

In the past 96 hours I have heard God cry.

May we be bold.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Fundraising plea or What am I doing?


Here at Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church I do a number of things from research, to advocacy to educational outreach. Bayou Blue partners with Project Homecoming (where my roommate works) every Wednesday when there are volunteers down (to help rebuild from Katrina) I either give a presentation or I take them out to Bayou Sauvage, a national wildlife reserve inside the city of New Orleans, on a boardwalk tour of the Bayou. I attend meetings with an organization called the Horizon Initiative (HI), they are a collection of business owners, nonprofit professionals, university researchers and professors and policy analysts concerned with issues surrounding how we handle our water in what we call ‘inside the levy’. The HI community has engaged with Dutch engineers to help us develop solutions to these issues that we can advocate for here in New Orleans. Everyone in the HI community understands that what happens inside the levy and how we deal with our water issues impacts people ‘down bayou’ or in rural southeastern Louisiana. These people live in communities that are typically not protected by levees or ‘outside the levy’. I mention the communities outside the levees because Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church is in one of those communities. That, by the way, is the short and easy description of what I do.

A crucial part of the YAV program is the fundraising that I have to do, this is important since the fundraising provides for our monthly stipend and rent. The program pays half and I have to fundraise the other half. This fundraising is important for a number of reasons, mainly because then I have to invite you in, into this year and this community. Which I have tried to do, perhaps not as successfully as I (or you) would have liked. But I still need help; I still have to raise $3265.00 before the beginning of August. If you would like to donate any amount is appreciated, as they say ‘every penny counts’. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

HOLY NOLA BATMAN! or Can you turn it down?


Right now we are reading the book of Jeremiah, and as I mentioned before, I am reading the commentary on it. One of the leitmotifs is the sundering of our relationship with God, predominantly by failing in our relationships with each other. It got me to thinking about my friends, about how most, if not all, of us meet before elementary school. The fact that they still talk to me is amazing, I mean, we went through puberty together, and I suppose if that doesn't destroy your friendship then it binds you for life. But still, I know I can be annoying, lets face it there are days when I have wanted to climb out of my own  skin to get away from me, so for them to stick around is a thing. We have fought each other, fought beside each other, fought each other for each other, we have yelled at each other for stupid decisions, mourned with one another, celebrated and waited with one another, we have patched each other up, emotionally and sometimes physically, we have challenged each other in life and reminded each other that there is someone better in love, most of us have known each other for almost a quarter of a century now and I can’t imagine my life without these people. I am as bound to them as I am to my brother (although he is also a part of this group). I can’t imagine anything they could do that would make me angry enough to truly sever my relationship with one of them, much less all of them. So when I read the book of Jeremiah, I struggle with how angry God is, how hurt and damaged the relationship must be for God to condemn his people that way. I mean, I’m human and I can’t imagine ever giving up on, much less actively reigning down destruction upon these people I love. I can’t imagine how hurt God must be witnessing the covenant slowly disintegrating, watching the slow, inexorable creation of a society that has forgotten the subtle strength of kindness, the healing of forgiveness, and the freedom in submission to the will of God.
As we are reading Jeremiah we are also reading Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen F. Davis, a book about living with the Psalms. The juxtaposition is …interesting. As a whole, the book of Psalms has to be my favorite book of the bible. It reminds us that anger, joy, hope, sadness and even mundane, every day annoyances are to be offered up to God, there is a form to be prayed (how very Presbyterian…). There is a quote in Getting Involved with God book about how God answers our prayers in unexpected ways, prayers for healing can be transformed in to the healing of fear; Ellen Davis writes “The answer may be given in a way that is not even perceptible to someone looking at the situation from the outside”. Humans it seems have a built in sense of justice ‘It’s not fair’ is inherent to our way of thinking, and it doesn't seem fair that when we try to do what we are supposed to, to honor that covenant relationship that physical healing doesn't happen. Yet often in the Psalms there doesn't seem to be an external resolution to the issue at hand, yet the end of the Psalm always ends in praise, in fact Psalm 30 says “You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”
Both the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Psalms are difficult to read, in the one God is angry, in the other, the Psalmist asks God to curse people. Yet in the end there is a form of grace and there is praise; it reminds me of the first question of the Westminster Catechism “What is the greater end of man? The greater end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”.
In Getting Involved With God Ellen Davis writes “The ancient rabbis said of scripture ‘Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it’”. Perhaps my difficulty in reconciling both Books is that I haven’t turned it enough, how have you turned it?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

NEWS UPDATE!

I am soooo sorry guys! It's been a bit busy the past few months, but a quick update. I am currently reading the book of Jeremiah; Toward Psychologies of Liberation by Mary Watkins and Helene Shulman; Environmental Policy: New Directions for the 21st Century, Eighth Edition edited by Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft; A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming by Walter Brueggemann; Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen F. Davis; Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, several chapters from various studies, articles in journals and at this point I'm not sure what else....Although if your looking for a good book I would recommend Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I will be back with an actual update on or before February 2nd.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

HOLY NOLY BATMAN! or where do we go from here?


Meditations on a Lectio Divina: Philippians 4: 4-9
“Rejoice in the Lord always; Again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever Is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always; Again I will say, Rejoice”
Each week I get to rejoice in the Lord’s creation and I get to share that joy with volunteers who have come to help rebuild the city. On Wednesday nights I take them out to Bayou Sauvage and show them why what they do at home with their water matters here. ( to see more check back here for my post on the NOLA YAV site). I love my job, I get to do good work, and I rejoice in that.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone”
Riiiggghhhttt, well since I recently had a longtime friend describe me as a teddy bear. Covered in Anthrax. Wrapped in razor wire. Comfort with emotional vulnerability might be something that I’m called to work on right now. I now refer to emotional stuff as ‘emotional goo’ as opposed to the more…creative…phrases I’ve used in the past (baby steps right?)But seriously you might find me choosing to be more emotionally vulnerable in this blog then I would be face to face- hey, I said baby steps!
“The Lord is near”
Yeah, dude better be. They warned us in orientation that emotionally gooey stuff we thought we had dealt with may come back- which is possibly a whole post. Also this month the Lord was near when they finally figured out what was wrong with the cuz and the Lord was certainly near my home church First Presbyterian Rockford.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God”
Parker- enough said. My best friend’s child was born this month. It was a difficult delivery for both mother and child, all are doing well now, but I spent that night- the next day- the next week in prayer. Every breath supplication, trying not to worry about what was not within my ability to FIX, to control. Wanting to be there- not here, and feeling terrified and impotent- and so I prayed and let my requests be known to God and eventually – joyfully- my prayers of supplication turned to prayers of thanksgiving.
“And the peace of God , which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus”
As terrified as I was, there was peace in faith. Faith in the doctors, in the prayers of our family and friends, our churches and communities. Peace in the knowledge of God’s grace and healing. It still stunk.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”
True, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, laudable and yet when I think on these what comes to mind is Psalm 139:14. A scripture that has haunted me, it has come up 3 times in the past month and twice on the day Parker was born. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Magnificent are thy works. This I know well” -just something to think on.
“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Right- got it- do the thing. Creation Care, peace and justice- Because you never could ask for a lot could you God?  Just me, just my life – just your peace