Genocide in Burma

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It is easy to be distracted from what is going on in the rest of the world by the crazy clown show that has become the US’s daily life.

On a recent road trip, my sister Sally said more than once, “But why isn’t anyone paying attention to the Rohingya people?”

I stood accused, because I hadn’t been attention either. I am now.

It turns out that the Muslim minority in Buddhist Burma has been persecuted for many, many years, despite the fact that generations of them have lived in Burma. Other ethnic/religious minorities, such as Hindus, are also persecuted. None of them is allowed to actually be considered a citizen of Burma and so have rights under the “law.”

Thanks to Twitter, I am following several people, most of them Rohingya themselves who are either in Bangladesh or in other countries as well as people inside Burma who are smuggling videos out. Some of them are following me, and I can tell you that it is beyond humbling that they appreciate my adding my voice.

It was in the mid-1990s that I first heard of Aung San Suu Kyi from a summer intern at the newspaper where I worked. She was being hailed as the savior of Burma’s soul to the extent of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she has isolated herself and gives weak excuses for the genocide of the Muslim minority of her country.

On September 13, 13 fellow Nobel Laureates and 23 other influential people signed an open letter to the UN, and so to her, asking the Security Council to intervene in Rakhine state in Burma, where the military is systematically destroying Rohingyan villages. It is reported that upward of 400,000 Rohingyan people have fled to Bangladesh, which has a Muslim majority; despite its own problems with catastrophic flooding, Bangladesh is setting up camps for the refugees. It is also reported, however, that the Burma military is trying to avert aid ships from delivering help to Bangladesh.

Those refugees will never be able to return to Burma. They are stateless.

In addition, according to a story by Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast, reported on September 18 that Rohingya activists inside Burma and in Western countries report that Facebook is suspending or deleting their accounts when they try to document what is happening.

I have managed to find horrific pictures of dead children and burned corpses of Rohingya Muslims. I wasn’t looking for them and God knows, I wish the images could fade from my mind. They never will.

The Burmese military’s latest tactic is to kill Hindu men while wearing uniforms without insignia on them so that Hindus will think the murderers are Rohingyan. Hindus have been pressed without success by the military to side with it against the Muslims.

 In fact, there are radicalized Rohingyans and the latest round of genocide began when they attacked police stations on August 25. In return, the military has systematically been going through village by village, burning, raping, killing all in their way.

Disinformation is being spread that the radicalized are part of ISIS. Rohingyans who have tried to get word out on Facebook, the only social media available in Burma, are finding their posts and accounts deleted.

The more than 4 million who have managed to make it to Burma will never be able to return to their homeland; hundreds of them are children whose parents were murdered.

It cannot be forgotten that Burma is another of the many unstable countries around the world that were once part of the British Empire. So was Bangladesh, of course, or East Pakistan as it was known after the disaster known as Partition brought to you by Great Britain.

The politics aside, the straight-up fact is that people, fellow human beings, are dying or living on the edge of death. They need help. Here are links to some agencies that are doing relief work. Please consider donating.

Save The Children

Islamic Relief USA for Myanmar

United Muslim Relief Burma/Myanmar

International Rescue Committee

 

 

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Haroon Moghul: How to be a Muslim

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I heard Haroon Moghul speak about his new book, How to be a Muslim, on “Fresh Air” and was moved to read it.

Little did I know how much his story would teach me about myself.

Mr. Moghul is a Fellow in Jewish-Muslim Relations at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, a contributor at the Center for Global Policy, and an academic and speaker on Islam. He grew up in a traditional Muslim-American family in Western Massachusetts. That traditional upbringing caused a great deal of inner turmoil in his youth as he navigated adolescence and all the usual hormonal conflicts that arise.

Being eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder did not help. His guilt about questioning his faith, questioning Allah, questioning relationships with non-Muslim girls, and having a neuro-biological disease brought him to the brink of suicide.

How he pushed through it all, and despite (or because) of it all being a successful organizer of Islamic centers for students and speaker on Islam, is important reading for understanding not only Islam, but also for understanding any faith journey.

Perhaps Mr. Moghul didn’t plan his book so, but that is what it brought to this reader.

Even as I listened to his interview with Terry Gross, I couldn’t help but think about being raised Catholic in the 1950s and ‘60s and the tremendous burden of guilt weekly sermons told me I must shoulder. The guilt was enhanced, I have since learned, by the disease of depression from which I have suffered since a small child.

It was when an elderly priest yanked me from a praying position and slapped me for not wearing a hat in church, not long before Vatican II decreed that women didn’t need to wear hats in church, that I vowed to brush Catholicism off my feet and move on.

The trouble was, I confused Christianity with Catholicism. And even as I trumpeted my unbelief, I realized that I wouldn’t be yelling at God if I didn’t fundamentally believe in God. And through it all, I still knew in my heart and soul that Jesus the Christ was my shepherd.

At one point in Mr. Moghul’s seeking for health and wholeness, a therapist told him to try spending just five minutes a day with Allah. As I was reading the book, and believing myself happily faithful now in my Episcopal/Lutheran church, I realized that my anger about American politics and racism and white supremacy was undermining my faith. I had lulled myself into thinking that the prayers I say each morning were holding me in a good place. But many days the prayers were said automatically and without intention.

So I took a cue from Mr. Moghul and started reading Morning Prayer from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer again. I started talking to Jesus about my anger and my anguish at the state of the nation. Oh, what a blessed difference it made! I’m still angry and my Twitter account shows it, but beginning the day with an organized routine of prayer has allowed light in that helps me channel the anger and keep depression from overwhelming me. I can push back against the darkness; as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Of course, Mr. Moghul’s book is not about me, and the world’s problems are not about me. Yet it is impossible to resist the darkness when everything around seems dark, whether that darkness comes from neuro-biological illnesses or the state of the world. I do think that is what Mr. Moghul writes about, and it is what he helped me see.

So I thank Mr. Moghul and I thank Him/Her, the Eternal Spirit, the Father and Mother of us all who draws us from darkness into light.

Pray for Guam

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Of all the reasons to find Donald Trump despicable this week, his dismissal of Guam as a possible target for North Korea is the highest on my list.

Every time he opened his bellicose mouth, he implied that Guam and its 160,000 people are expendable.

As if there aren’t young children who may be being taught to duck and cover right now.

As if there aren’t teen-agers dreaming about their futures now.

As if there aren’t adults with a long bucket list.

As if there aren’t elders hoping for security and comfort in their old age.

But Guam has always been expendable to imperial powers, including the Church of Rome, Spain, Japan, and the US.

Despite the fact that the Chamorros settled there at least 4,000 years ago, Tana l’ManChamorro (Land of the Chamorros) has never been self-governing in the modern era. It has been used and abused for what it can offer foreign military strategists and economic strategists.

We can thank good old Teddy Roosevelt, the founder of American Imperialism, for the US takeover of Guam in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, about which he was so “bully”-ish. Fast forward to Pearl Harbor and the taking of Guam by Japan and Tana l’ManChamorro became a very hot zone until the US reclaimed it in 1944.

Despite Governor Eddie Baza Calvo’s public remarks that the colony is not worried about nuclear threats, there are real people on the island who are and who wonder why no one is considering what could happen to them.

The Washington Post wrote about some of them the other day: “ ‘If anything happens, we all got to be ready, be prepared, and pray to God that it doesn’t happen,’ Daisy Mendiola, 56, said after finishing lunch with her family at a restaurant near Hagatna. ‘Everyone’s afraid, because we’re dealing with powers that’s beyond us.’

“Other residents are worried about the political atmosphere and the government’s ability to find a peaceful solution.

“Todd Thompson, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats because he ‘figured cooler heads in Washington would prevail, and it was just an idle threat.’ “

But now we know there are not cooler heads in Washington or in New Jersey.

I am a child of the Cold War. I heard a lot of talk about building bomb shelters, though my family did not have one. I laid awake nights putting myself into utter terror thinking of what might happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep for fear that I wouldn’t wake up.

No child should ever feel that way. No parent should have to comfort a sleepless child when the parent herself doesn’t know what might happen.

More important, no US president should ever be spouting off threats of nuclear destruction when he has zero knowledge of the true state of the world.

Guam is a little Garden of Eden, by all descriptions. Sandy beaches, temperate weather, friendly people. To misquote Joni Mitchell, please don’t bomb paradise and put up a radioactive parking lot.

 

 

 

Refugees – 0; White Supremacy – 14

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It started this way:

I follow Amarnath Amarasingam on Twitter. He is a senior research fellow at the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue. On July 19, he posted part of an article that he and Jacob Davey wrote for The Mantle, a newsletter of mantlethought.org about Generation Identitaire.

Among other things this group does is hire ships to go to sea and interfere with humanitarian efforts to rescue refugees.

“They are vehemently nativist, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-liberal and anti-left wing. Individual members of the group express support for white supremacism, and their anti-globalist rhetoric is often dog-whistle anti-Semitism,” wrote Mr. Amarasingam and Mr. Davey in their article.

I responded to Mr. Amarasingam’s tweet: “Heard about them about a month ago. Scariest thing is how young they are. What makes people so evil?”

I got many likes and retweets and one comment agreeing with me. Two people took exception. Here’s the first one:

“And let’s be clear, they are human beings that fit your narrative. If Donald Trump and his family was in a boat you’d be happy to see it sunk.”

Not sure how this person knows that I would do that. In fact, I would try to save them if I were in a position to, but I’m sure the Trumps would take over my boat and toss me off.

Someone else was much more exercised and sent several tweets between July 19 and July 24. This is the order in which they came. I am omitting quotation marks now and have not edited the tweets for spelling or grammar:

  1. A majority of the people in Italy are pleading to stop these NGO’s are 62% of the Italians Evil?
  2. Are the Dutch, Austrians and Poles assholes because they do not want to subjugate their country to Africans?
  3. Africa a continent 5 times the size of Europe, full of minerals and resources abundant agricultural opportunities? Why Europe??

(I responded that perhaps the answer is karma because Europe had raped Africa and plundered its resources.)

  1. The white Europeans are the destiny for millions Africans, while Africa is 5 times Europ, full of resources and agricultural posibilities.

(I responded that this is the original racist argument and doesn’t fly.)

  1. In 1900 a large part of Africa did not have a written history, they literally lived in the pre-history
  2. Colonization lasted 60 years, compare that with Polish plight, It was invade in 1939 and freed in 1990. Befor 1914 itwas 200 year occupied
  3. Africans had cordial contact with Europeans since 1450, but somehowe they did not learn anything from the Europeans
  4. It was in 1900 that Europeans started to abolish slavery in Africa.
  5. Europeans did not need much resources during the period of Colonization
  6. The population explosion in Africa is thanks to Europeans, Nigeria can only feed its population thanks to oil export!
  7. By blaming the Europeans for the plight of the Africans you are inciting hate and conducting hate speech.
  8. 11 mln black slaves were transported in 200 years all sold by black Africans, 11 mln white males were slaughtered in 4 years Worl War I
  9. (This is paraphrased) You don’t know your African history.
  10. Strong line of reasoning: “they are white supremacist”. brilliant!

Well, I guess they told me! In all this tweeting, however, I can’t help but think of the boatloads of Jews who were turned away from safe shores in the late 1930s.

 

Pentecost in the Age of Trump

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A sermon preached on 6/4/17 at Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield, MA

O Holy Spirit of God, abide with us.
Inspire all our thoughts.
Pervade our imaginations.
Suggest all our decisions.
Order all our doings.
Be with us in our silence and in our speech,
In our haste and in our leisure,
In company and in solitude,
In the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening,
And give us grace at all times
Humbly to receive thy mysterious companionships.

If the apostles thought they were in danger before Jesus came and breathed on them, thus imparting to them His Holy Spirit, they were in even more danger afterward.

To let God use your mind, your heart, and your hands is indeed a perilous venture, my friends. For when you do, you open yourselves to ridicule, to mocking, to having to place yourself at both physical and spiritual risk.

I have always thought of the mysterious companionships mentioned in the prayer as creatures of the natural world. Indeed, I believe that God used such creatures to draw me closer and closer to Her. I can’t tell you the number of times that, in moments of deep discouragement, a swallowtail butterfly has swirled around me, or a wolf, though attached to a chain, has come up to me and licked my hand, or a dragonfly has landed on my arm, and immediately all bad thoughts have evaporated and I have felt comforted and loved.

Kissed on Both Eyelids

I have felt as the actor Walter Slezak felt when he wrote in his autobiography that upon meeting his future wife, he felt as if God had kissed him on both eyelids. Isn’t that warm and cozy and comforting?

As I get older, however, and look at the patterns of my life, and if we look at the patterns of the apostles’ lives after Pentecost, we can see that there is much more to the working of the Holy Spirit in ourselves, in the church, and in the world.

There comes saying the unpopular thing that needs to be heard. There comes daring to love the unlovable. There comes befriending one’s enemies. There comes, at all times and in all places, an involuntary urge to do the right thing, no matter the cost.

 There comes action, according to the gifts the Spirit gives each one of us.

The original Pentecost was a Jewish holiday called Shavuot. Fifty days after Passover, Jews still celebrate the day on which God gave the Israelites the Torah and they became His people. This year it was celebrated on June 1.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for spirit is “ruah,” meaning wind, power, strength. In the New Testament, the Greek word “pneuma” is used for the Holy Spirit, meaning breath. We see them both used in the readings from Acts and in John’s Gospel. Notice the differences in them, though. In Acts, Jerusalem is filled with people who have come to celebrate Shavuot, which has now morphed into a harvest festival. Suddenly a violent wind comes into the house where the apostles are staying and tongues of fire rest on them. Suddenly they are able to speak in other languages, and every person in the city hears them speak in their own language.

John’s Pentecost is taking place on the same day as the Resurrection. The frightened Apostles are barricaded behind locked doors. Jesus comes to them and breathes on them, recalling Genesis and God’s breath into the first human being. Jesus said to the apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Real Kiss of Life

What ties the two Scriptures together is not obvious. One depicts the Apostles in the middle of a micro-storm and includes hundreds of other people. The second shows a very quiet moment in which Jesus is not only breathing on them, but into them. This is no artificial respiration, but it is the real kiss of life, the sealing of them as His own and marking them forever as people who are commissioned to go out into the world and be Jesus in the world. And as he did it to the apostles, he did it to us.

When the Spirit comes, Jesus tells the Apostles in Chapter 16 of John, “. . .he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Matt Skinner of the Lutheran Theological Seminary puts it this way: “That is, in the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers receive nothing less than the fullness of the glorified Son. Their lives (ours, too) can therefore accomplish ends similar to his life’s, insofar as they reveal God.”

The world that the Spirit comes to prove wrong, through the Apostles and through us, “usually indicates a hostile and ignorant response to the truth that Jesus embodies,” Mr. Skinner says. And by the most intimate divine act possible, that of breathing into us, Jesus assures us that His peace is not that of the world, not just the cozy and comforting view I’ve had, but peace that gives confidence that no matter how bad it gets, Jesus is with us through it all.

But what do we make of the final verse of today’s gospel reading? Quoting Mr. Skinner again, “The Johannine Pentecost” goes like this:

Jesus bestows peace upon his worried followers. Great!

Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. Great!

Jesus tells them they can forgive or retain other people’s sins. Huh?”

We have to look back at the verse from Chapter 16 and throughout the rest of John to understand that, no, we are not given the responsibility of coming up with a balance sheet of other people’s rights and wrongs.

Sin As Estrangement

Over and over again in John, Jesus talks about Himself and his relationship to the Father, and that if one can’t believe what he says, one remains separated from God, and so the word “sin” here in today’s reading refers to that estrangement, that separation. To forgive people’s sins here doesn’t mean that we are to give absolution for others’ moral failings, but that we, as commissioned by Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit, can help set people free from their unbelief by bearing witness to Jesus in our lives. If we don’t, the estrangement from God is “retained” in the world.

In a way, Jesus is really pointing out cause and effect: If you, my apostles, my followers, my church, bear witness to me, you will help to free people from their unbelief. If you don’t, that unbelief will continue.

To relate this back to Acts, I have to address the elephant in the room. Yesterday, seven people were killed by terrorists in London. At least 28 others were wounded, some life-threateningly so. This is the second terrorist attack in England in two weeks.

At least 90 people, mostly women and children, died in Kabul, Afghanistan this week in a terrorist attack, and several killed at a funeral Friday for a young man who was protesting the lack of security in Kabul and was shot by police.

In the US, there have been two fatal incidents of domestic terrorism in the past two weeks. A white supremacist fatally stabbed Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were fatally stabbed and Micah Fletcher wounded in Portland when they intervened with a white supremacist who was harassing two young women whom he believed were Muslim.

African-American college student Richard Collins III was fatally stabbed by a white supremacist student on his college campus two weeks ago.

Our President condemns attacks on white Westerners and uses them to push his travel ban. We hear very little from him about the domestic terroristic attacks, which I believe were empowered by this government, or when Muslims are killed by others who call themselves Muslims but pervert the faith of Islam.

Luke writes at least twice about God’s unifying vision of all people, about anti-discrimination if you will. Today’s scripture, which is always read on Pentecost, shows people from dozens of nations able to understand each other, able to hear each other, after the Holy Spirit comes in wind and fire.

Is this then the true work of the Holy Spirit? To empower us to set others’ free from the deadly sins of extremism and racism? To radically learn to UNDERSTAND each other and HEAR each other, no matter who we are and where we’re from. To radically DEFEND those who are attacked and to intervene when we witness the discrimination, the hate of those who have rejected the Kingdom of God?

I would have preferred to dwell on the cozy and comforting aspects of the mysterious companionships today, my friends. I would rather not have to ask you, or myself, if you had been on that train in Portland, would you have intervened? I would rather have played Pollyanna’s “glad game” and left you with rosy and optimistic thoughts.

But our world, and our country, becomes more dangerous every day as the sins of racism on all sides do their evil work, inside our country and out of it. So today, I say, the mysterious companionships are courage, strength, and fortitude to resist the evil work at every pass. This is what Jesus is breathing into us today. Will we accept the grace to do that?

Everyone Belongs in the Kingdom

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My little garden in a little town in a little state is my refuge, my haven, my glimpse of the Kingdom.

It is in shade, yet there are flowering plants and lots of green foliage. I did a little work and nature did the rest. In the near distance are trees dappled in sunlight in the late afternoon and a glimpse of the churchyard next door.

Robins and catbirds and sparrows and swifts sit on the fence and call to the universe or fly and dart about. Honeybees cover the cimicifuga and they are more than welcome. Fat bumblebees fly up into the heart of the hosta blossoms. I sit with my coffee and my book and my mature, overweight cat lazes nearby.

A chipmunk runs across the paving stones from one clump of vegetation to another. A poodle pup named Rory charges up the path from next door, tail wagging, to greet me. Onyx flips her tail and eyes him warily. I give him a good patting and send him back to his owner.

Yes, the Kingdom, the harmony, the peace despite a busy major route just yards away. For 45 minutes a day most days I can come to my retreat and, ideally, shed the tensions of the work day.

It is more difficult to shed the tensions of the world. Even more difficult is that I am ever mindful of the fact that there is no haven, no blessed retreat, no Kingdom for so many people on this Earth, our island home spinning through a universe of wonders and horrors.

Is it neurosis or social conscience that never lets me forget how privileged my life has been? I have known loss and grief. My mother died when she was the age I’ll be in September, a short, violent battle with liver cancer that took her before we could even get our minds around what was happening to her. My beloved brother died when he was the age I am now, a long, drawn-out battle with pancreatic cancer that left him a bag of bones loosely covered in flesh, and it was almost impossible to recognize the athletic, handsome, dignified youth and man he had been.

People, pets, jobs, relationships, the losses that are the normal stuff of most lives.

But no one I love has ever been executed because of the color of his skin. No one I love has so far been in the path of a terrorist. No child of mine has ever lived in a war zone or had to risk drowning to reach a shore of safety.

In the late 1980s, the African National Congress toured the world with a documentary called “Every Child is My Child.” Along with all the political and economic and humanitarian efforts to end the evil called apartheid, it galvanized people to look at the struggle in a new way.

For me, it reinforced the feeling that I have known as long as I can remember, that every person is my child, my sister, my brother, my mother, my father, and the Kingdom is not mine alone to enjoy. It won’t be the Kingdom until everyone can live without fear, in safety and peace, in the sure knowledge that when they wake up to a new day, they are not risking their lives by stepping outside their doors.

 

Brexit + Trump = Bad News

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In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, we are hearing a lot of apologias for the vote to leave the European Union and are told that we must try to understand why people voted this way.

Many similarities have been seen between those Brexit voters in England and the followers of Donald Trump, so therefore we must also try to understand the Trump followers and find out what they want. Presumably we are also supposed to try to give them what they want without actually making Donald Trump the President.

This is a populist movement, we’re told, by the working class who want a better life, better jobs, better everything, and don’t believe they will get it from the elite ruling establishment. It is not about racism, it is not about immigration and open borders, we’re told. It is simply about wanting a better life and self-determination.

My response? BALLS! It is about self-interest, pure and simple; it is about wanting only what is good for oneself; it is about ignoring the interests of one’s country as a whole; it is about retaliation; above all, in my opinion, it is about the longing of white men to be king of the hill again.

The rise of Donald Trump and the rise of the agitation to leave the EU have one really big thing in common: immigration in the US and the refugee crisis in Europe.

The leaders of the agitation are not working class, are not poor, and most assuredly do not have the interests of the “common man” in their hearts. What they do have is the ability to exploit and manipulate fears of the “other” among their followers, to an almost maniacal degree.

Who suffers most from closed borders? Black and brown people and non-Christians. It’s that simple, friends. And it’s that evil.

Whether it’s a virtual wall or a physical wall, these two phenomena want to keep out the other and keep all the goodies for themselves. But making that wall means getting rid of the other who crossed the border when it was open. What does that lead to?

Thomas Mair, who allegedly murdered British parliamentarian Jo Cox in the cause of Brexit, had well-established ties to Neo-Nazi organizations. Neo-Nazi activists flocked to Donald Trump’s rally in Sacramento. Like Isis, they want to establish their own “caliphate” and return to the “good old days” of white men ruling the world. Don’t believe me? Read what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about the right(white)-wing activists who flocked to Sacramento: White Nationalism

But it won’t be the working class white men who benefit from Brexit or a Trump presidency; it will be the wealthy white elite, and they won’t (read don’t) give a rat’s ass about what’s good for the underclass.

I propose that instead of rounding up the black and brown and non-Christian immigrants/refugees, we round up the Trump followers and the England First followers into detention camps. Just for fun, let’s throw in the billionaire Libertarian agitators too. There they could receive the benefit of deep therapy to learn why they’re really so angry and be helped to recover from whatever real or imaginary wounds they have.

Meanwhile, I’ll be praying for all the people for whom Brexit and a possible Trump presidency hold dire, even life-threatening consequences.