Present Day Justice Issues: Charity Over Complacency

These past two weeks, I have been mostly silent (on my blog and Facebook, at least) in regards to the midweek election results. But on Wednesday morning, I posted a lament that I wrote as a knee-jerk response to hearing about the large number of Christians that, in my mind, chose not to vote “principle over party” on November 8. I was pained both by the irony and by the way other human beings had already felt the affect of our next President. What I said might have been harsh, but I stand by it regardless. Christians on all sides (myself included) have forgotten that our kingdom is not of this world and that we should make it our goal to bring heaven down to earth with each passing day.

As I always try to do, I spent a lot of time this week reflecting on the situation, and tried my best to listen to both sides of the spectrum. I’ve heard some incredible truths, whether it was at the church I’ve recently started attending or spoken by a shocked and dismayed Stephen Colbert during his show’s live election coverage or a sober and professional Michel Martin from NPR’s All Things Considered the Sunday night afterward (which, in my opinion, should be required listening/reading for all).

I’ve thought long and hard about what I should say and do in response to all that’s going on. I’ve been pained by the stories I’ve seen on social media–of black and/or LGBTQ+ inclusive churches being burned and vandalized with spray-painted swastikas, slurs, and disturbing praise for the President-elect; of a protester holding a sign that says “Rape [future First Lady] Melania [Trump]” in response to the election results (read the full story here); and of students from my own university posting an implicitly racist and ill-advised (to say the veryleast) video onto Snapchat a couple days ago (the students involved were promptly expelled from ACU–read President Phil Schubert’s statement here and an article from the school newspaper on different students’ reactions here)–and I’ve been brought close to tears a countless number of times.

What bothers me even more, however, is the defensiveness I have seen from those who voted for our next president. They say, “Not all of his supporters are doing this” and “He said himself that they should stop it”. They excuse and normalize actual hatred, actual hate crimes, actual bigotry. And if we–if I–in response to the hurting and violation of human rights, choose complacency, silence, no response at all, then I become part of the problem. Silence over injustice cannot make things better, but rather, only perpetuates it.

My heart breaks for those who now fear for their and their family/friends’ lives in light of the election, and I want to say that regardless of whether or not you think their fear is justified, I want to urge you not to shut them up. I beg you not to dismiss the protests, the Facebook posts, and the increased number of calls to suicide hotlines following the election as whiny overreactions (especially when many prominent names on the “winning” side threatened to react in the same way). Rather, I want to encourage you to listen to them. Their fear is real, and there are real reasons why they exist.

It is more likely than not that you are, at the very least, Facebook friends with some of these people. Human beings that no longer feel safe in this country. And my request for you is, if you really want to prove that you are not like others who voted for the same candidate you voted for, or if you, like me, consider yourself to be a Christian, a moral person, or a compassionate person, I want to urge you to take action. Donate to charities that serve human beings in our nation and around the world who are oppressed and under-privileged (and have been to some extent or another for a very long time anyway). Look past your political leanings and see the children of God whom your complacency is hurting.

Below are several charities who are in need of continued support and who constantly strive to seek justice in light of a world who often overlooks them.

 

NATIONAL COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS:
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Growing up, I had always been taught to be cautious about those on the street who claim to be homeless, because sometimes, people pose as beggars just to get some extra money. However, that does not mean at all that homeless people do not exist. Furthermore, while the homeless population has been steadily decreasing over the past several years (due in large part to federal funding), this does not mean that there are not low-income people at risk of losing a roof over their heads, nor does it mean that there is really any good way to genuinely help bring people out of homelessness, unemployment, homeless shelters, etc. (for a full and recent report, you can click on this link here, and if you do not have time to read all 83 pages, don’t worry, they offer a two page summary at the beginning). If you are cautious about giving money to people you see on the street, you can still help out by giving to charities such as this one who work with homeless people directly. What is more, you can kill two birds with one stone. Conservatives tend to place more emphasis on serving homeless veterans, while a lot of liberals have focused on serving homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Both parties are in desperate need of relief (it is also worth noting that the article above mentions a decrease(!) in the number of homeless veterans, but gives no mention to homeless LGBTQ+ teens, which comprise of roughly half of the homeless youth population). Furthermore, homeless shelters (plenty of which can be found in Houston) are always looking for more people to volunteer. By volunteering, you get to see directly how people are affected both by contributions and by complacency. You really can make a difference. The NCH’s website is a haven for resources, including fact sheets and ways you can help, so I encourage you to get involved in whatever way you can.

You can also look for churches in your area that work to serve the homeless in some way (such as the church I’m now attending, Impact Church of Christ in Houston). While I am unable to work with many of their ministries directly due to distance and my late work hours, I have still decided to commit to donating to the congregation (and, if I can, their homeless ministry) weekly.

 

TEACH FOR AMERICA:
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Teach for America is a non-profit organization that helps both recent college graduates and underprivileged children. Most of the teachers that are a part of this organization are sent to low income schools throughout the country while the organization pays off their student debt, either in part or in full, depending on how long they choose to commit to the organization. Education is one of the most important factors needed for the advancement of society, and it helps kids grow up to become a person of value and benefit both for themselves and their communities. Unfortunately, public education immensely underfunded in our country today, and it is even worse in our inner cities, which is populated mostly by ethnic minorities. Furthermore, our President-elect seeks to greater privatize education and leave decisions regarding free public education–all that people in the inner cities are able to afford (and, I would argue, a matter of human rights)–to state governments. To learn more about problems with our [segregated] education system, John Oliver (yes, really) gives a fantastic lecture on it here (warning: explicit language). And to learn more about Teach for America, you can find a link to their website right here.

 

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE:
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These past few years have seen a rise both in the number of refugees needing a home and in fear surrounding these refugees. I cannot stress enough how irrational these fears are, though I’m also painfully aware that simply saying, “Do not fear” is not a sufficient way to change anyone’s minds. Fear that is rational, however, is the fear that the refugees themselves face: governments that threw them out, other governments that shut them out, and an unknown future ahead of them with little to no way to provide for their families. These people–literally, over 99% of these people–have no ill intents. They are victims, not terrorists, and they simply want to be safe. They simply want to be home. And the International Rescue Committee works to help refugees from all countries and in all countries. You can find a link to their website here and you can learn more about displaced refugees on the UN website here and “meet” some of the refugees yourself through this video by actress (who you very likely know from the AT&T commercials) Milana Vayntrub, who is, herself, a former refugee.

 

This list is only a handful of organizations that do wonderful things for those who are oppressed. I’ve not even scratched the surface, and perhaps one day I’ll compile a whole list of summaries about organizations that help to serve others in need. But for now, I want to offer a challenge to all Americans, regardless of who they voted for, to not be complacent about things that matter. We all must do a better job of listening to others, looking past our own needs, and seeking compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than us. I will be the first to admit my own shortcomings on this matter. Even so, I hope to press on and continue (start?) to do my part in serving others, and I believe that this blog is one of the best ways that I, myself, can help. I would love for you to join me, as well. We can keep each other accountable for our actions (or lack thereof).

For now, I would like to, as I often do, close with one of my favorite prayers, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Thank you for reading. May we all seek to become better people and greater lights to the world that point to the mercy, love, and grace that can only be found in God through Christ Jesus. Until next time.

Hear, O America

Hear, O America.

And behold your God, a god who is but a drug.
A god who you use as a shot of adrenaline
To boost your self-esteem and make you feel
as though you have worth.

But this god is not God,
For all this god requires is that
your faith begins with him
and simply ends at you.

This god you claim
fits snuggly in a picture frame
and hangs on your mantle
with all the other idols.

It says it knows the plans for you
and that you can do all things through it
because it gives you strength.
But this god is not God.

Hear, O whitewashed Christian America
And woe to you,
For on the outside you are spotless,
but on the inside you are covered with filth.

Your savior is not one who hangs on a cross,
but one that drapes over the pole
outside your work, outside your home,
outside your church.

This god encourages you
to celebrate the values
that belong to you,
but then it simply ends at you.

Your gods are a set of values
that have no worth
because you are the only one
who reaps the benefit and privilege.

Here, O Religious Right.
You can have your gods.
You can have all this world.
But the cost will surely be your soul.

Dona Nobis Pacem: A Brief Review of Hacksaw Ridge

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I don’t know about you, but I love a good action film. GladiatorDie Hard, the Bourne movies, any of the billion superhero flicks from the past 30 years or so. Really, one of the best formulas for a good movie is to create something with a lot of explosions.

That being said, though, I sometimes can’t help but feel at least a slight sense of self-contradiction whenever I watch these sorts of movies.

Hopefully it does not come as too much of a shock for me to openly reveal here that I consider myself to be a pacifist. I am against war and am ultimately not too fond of guns (though I will still admit that they are plenty fun to shoot). Like most people, I am opposed to both police brutality as well as violence against the police, and I unapologetically oppose the death penalty.

These beliefs are rooted in my Christian faith and how I interpret the Bible. The sixth commandment given to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 20 states not to murder, and Jesus takes this commandment even further in his Sermon on the Mount when he proclaims that one shall not murder another person even in one’s heart. Among other things. As a practicing Christian and aspiring pastor, these are commandments I want to do my best to take seriously in my life. And to go along with that, just from what I’ve seen in attempts to take a sober look at our world today and throughout history, violence has frequently been used to try to end violence, and, so far, it has never worked.

But I digress.

When I first heard about the movie Hacksaw Ridge, I was excited, albeit a little nervous, to see how it would turn out. For those who might not have heard about it yet, Hacksaw Ridge (the trailer for which you can see here) is a movie based on the true story of World War II medic Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist who enlisted in the army but stirred up some controversy when he said he refused to fight on the front because of his beliefs. “I will still be proud to wear the uniform and salute the flag, but I cannot carry a gun.” Doss, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, stated in the movie (quoted from memory, so it is probably not exact).

Without wanting to go too in depth into the plot line, Doss goes on to win a Medal of Honor after having saved hundreds of soldiers on both sides of the war, becoming the first “conscientious objector” in American history to be given such an award. All without firing a single bullet.

So you can probably guess why I was so interested in seeing this movie. It is, essentially, an anti-war war movie (complete with all the explosions and gore you’d expect to see in a movie directed by Mel Gibson, the same man behind Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ). I also decided after finishing the movie that I would discuss its significance here in my blog, so that’s what I’m going to do now.

This movie is important simply because of what it is. Having a mainstream movie that focuses on nonviolence in the literal middle of a war zone is, needless to say, rare, and Hacksaw Ridge addresses this complex topic in a compelling and thought-provoking manner.

It is most certainly not perfect, however, but it is still, in my opinion, a fantastic representation of the story it seeks to tell. Yet it is, “unfortunately,” also realistic in that all of Doss’s comrades continue to fight and kill in the midst of his active passivity.

Even so, the impact that Doss creates in the movie is evident. His presence sticks out like a sore thumb, and the hostility that his actions initially received eventually turned into respect and awe at his upstanding, if not troubled, character.

What’s more, it is continually relevant in a climate such as ours that is war-weary (or, more accurately, war-complacent) and is sometimes hostile toward particular races of people. Honestly, I don’t imagine a hefty portion of Americans reacting all that kindly to a story about one of our soldiers who offers aid to, say, an Iraqi soldier, as Desmond Doss did for a Japanese soldier in the movie.

In regards to genre, it is interesting to note that, in a lot of ways, the movie addresses conflict in a manner much like how a lot of stereotypical Christian movies–most of which I utterly despise–would address it. In the movie, Doss is a lone wolf. He’s the only Christian in his unit, and he’s essentially “persecuted” for standing up for what he believes in. It is as though non-Christians are all incredibly awful sinners who want to kill each other, and it’s the one devout man from the Bible Belt who shows everyone else the “right way” to live.

However, it goes without saying that a large number of our country’s veterans and supporters of our military are Christians. While I felt like I could relate to Doss easily because we are both faith-driven pacifists, I’m also quite aware that I’m likely in the minority among other Bible Belt-area Christians. The potential reaction that someone whose opinions differ from my own might have to this movie or this topic goes beyond my realm of understanding. But at the same time, one of the greatest legacies this movie already has to offer is a platform for conversation among those from all different sides of the spectrum: the Christian pacifist, the Christian veteran, the moral atheist, the Japanese Americans and even the Muslim Americans. Each of us, and then some, has our own unique perspectives to provide in light of the issues brought about by this film. And, really, what more can a filmmaker ask for (aside from money and job offers)?

Ultimately, I hope that the story of Desmond Doss helps further pave the way to peace in our world today, and I don’t believe that is too ridiculous a goal to maintain. Most of us would agree that we don’t like war, but we’re also not so naive as to think that complicated and dangerous situations can always be solved with simple, civil discussion (but on the other hand, why do we think that they can be solved with members of the military killing each other?). Even so, I hope that we, as a human race, can one day successfully get to that point.

And until then, I hope to be an active member in the fight against violence. I pray that I can be a light in this dark and chaotic world. And I pray to be an instrument of the peace of Christ. Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace, O Lord.

And right now, I want to encourage anyone reading this to take the time out to watch this movie. If you attend a church, I want you bring some of your church friends with you. Invite that relative you always fight with at Thanksgiving to watch it with you while y’all are both in town together later this month. And get a conversation started. Come in with an open mind, but come in critical, as well. This is something bigger than any one person, and yet it is something that affects each and every one of us. The smallest wars are the ones that impact us as individuals the most: the wars fought within our own hearts.

 

*Warning: Rated R. For a reason. Violence and gore and racial slurs and naked man butt. Not for the faint of heart. But I would still encourage you to go see it, if you can.