A Women’s March Prayer

Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action

The Women’s March was exactly one year ago today.  And, I’ve been thinking about how it connects with the story of the Cleansing of the Temple from the Gospel of John, where the Temple practices of Jesus’ time are seen as a system that is accepted by all, even though they had drifted far from the intent of God.  But, Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action.  Many are determined to do just that: as we saw in Boston last year, and again (in Cambridge and many other places) yesterday.

Through John, Jesus calls to take a stand against injustices that most accept as “just how the world works.” And so, this prayer is derived from the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who spent his life in the pursuit of justice for the people of El Salvador…

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I’m Not Racist?

We cannot be our own judge.

“No, I am not a racist.”


The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless.  (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it!  But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)

Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view.  They are an expression of how we see ourselves.  And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life.  So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists.  We’re not misogynists.  We’re not bullies.  We’re not evil.  Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.

In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist.  That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism.  Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves.  We cannot be our own judge.

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Why Should We Resist?

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime, and will. We would do so in a collaborative, supportive way if he were a reasonable man…. But, he is not that kind of man.


From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed, Democratic Resistance”, The New Yorker Magazine, Jan 18, 2017 (link below)

During my first job as a computer programmer (way back in the late 1970’s) the owner of the small factory where I worked was quite a large and “take charge” sort of man, and had quite the temper.  When you crossed or disappointed him in any way, he’d lean forward, turn red in the face and pound his fist on his desk: yelling at you and insulting you.

Everyone in the office would cower behind their desks when this happened: hoping they would not become the next target of his wrath.  No one dared tell him “No.” (Except me, although that was largely because I was too naive to realize I should be intimidated.  I also didn’t have a mortgage or car payment to worry about!)

What I learned is that once he yelled and screamed for a bit, he’d calm down, and then would listen to what I had to say.  He came to respect me because I stood up to him, and told me so.  Even though we never became friends, I did respect him; and we accomplished a great deal during my time there.

That ability to stand firm in the face of such anger has served me well in the years since.  (Although it has also gotten me fired once or twice, until I learned that doing so works best if you listen carefully past the emotion, to hear what the other is trying to say.)

Now, the politics of consensus and community-building – which are my own default and preferred approach – can lead one to conclude that we should play nice with our new President from day one, as  Joan Vennochi advocates in her opinion piece “Democrats, don’t take your ball and go home” in today’s Boston Globe.

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime.  If he were a reasonable man (and nothing he’s said in public leads to that conclusion), I’d agree with Ms. Vennochi’s points.  But, he is not that kind of man: his personality is very similar to that long ago boss of mine, and many others I’ve encountered in the years since.

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Is It Justice When We Do It Too?

Is the use of another’s history of oppression and dispossession as a means of promoting a cause we hold dear, in opposition to the clearly unjust and hurtful stance of those we see as opposing us, just? Do two wrongs make a right?

This meme makes a valid point, but the map itself inflates the facts quite a bit, and is problematic in other ways…
Large portions of the area shown here were never part of Mexico, and most were actually administered remotely with no actual Imperial Spanish (and in some places/times French) presence “on the ground,” and were ceded to the U.S. in the first few decades of the 19th century.
Even so, it is true that the Texas Revolution, the war of 1845, and the Gadsden purchase reduced the land area the nation of Mexico to less than half of the size it had at the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1808.

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Righting a Wrong

The administrators of Catholic Memorial High School are correct: Corporate Responsibility teaches us that we must all bear responsibility when some in our community commit verbal or physical violence against “The Other.” But, we must also remember that using it as an excuse for violence and oppression of others is an evil lie: you cannot blame an entire population or community or religion or economic class for the (real or imagined) actions of a few.

20160356e4a1fec96cbWith regards to the recent furor in our local (Boston Area) news about how students from Catholic Memorial High School [CM] in West Roxbury, MA chanted “You killed Jesus” at a recent Basketball game against Newton North High School (NNHS, which has a large Jewish student population.  Both schools are within 5 miles of the graduate school were I received my Masters of Divinity, Andover Newton Theological School.)

I understand how many students at CM feel cheated because of the actions of a few dozen of their peers.  And some may feel that the slurs shouted at them by students from NNHS at that game were just cause for the hateful speech that was directed at them in return.

It appears that the school administration has made the hard decision of putting morality and repentance ahead of popularity or convenience. And, they are emphasizing corporate responsibility for what happened (which is also at the heart of the #BlackLivesMatter movement).  “Corporate responsibility” is the moral law that says we can’t escape responsibility for wrongs done against others by those who are part of our own community, even when we are not directly involved. (Sadly, based on the student Tweets quoted in this article, the school will be facing a tough challenge on teaching this to some of their students.)

I will be interested to see how this plays out in the weeks to come: the school administration has pledged to make a determined effort to educate their students more carefully and thoroughly with regards to the evils of anti-Judaism and other forms of exclusion of those who are “Other.” And, in addition to a ban on current students attending the championship game, they have already contacted both NNHS and the Anti Jewish Defamation League to make significant apologies and pledges to reform.

But I wonder, will this determination to right the wrong and to change one’s behavior for the better extend to the teachers and administration as well? The students did not do this in isolation; since, as already stated, the absence of personal responsibility for a wrong does not free anyone in that school from corporate responsibility.  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  I also wonder if the NNHS community, whose students shouted similar (though less incendiary) slurs at the CM students, are in need of learning a similar lesson for themselves.

And, I should add, the very idea that “Jews killed Jesus” is a serious misunderstanding of the Gospels, as Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley made clear in a speech at Temple Emmanuel here in the Boston area just the night before the game.  “Corporate Responsibility” does not lead us to conclude that all Jews must bear responsibility for the faults of a few in leadership positions in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, even if it really was exclusively their fault to begin with (which it wasn’t, if at all).

Corporate Responsibility is an important tool for repentance and healing, not an excuse for violence against “The Other”: using it as an excuse for violence and oppression against others is the evil lie that Donald Trump and others in the current Presidential Campaign are trumpeting every chance they get, but they are wrong: you cannot blame an entire population or community or religion or economic class for the (real or imagined) actions of a few.

Which brings to mind this thought: those who are advocating violence and oppression against others in this political campaign are part of our national “community” – even if we wish it were not so.   So, how do we repent or atone for the damage that is being done by them and those who support them; since they are Americans just like we are, and so we must acknowledge our Corporate Responsibility for their words and actions?


Political Correctness

11836927_10153464980125629_6062162762026020487_nAs much as I admire and respect the work and words of Neil Gaiman, this meme that is said to be quoting him (I have not verified that this is the case) is half right.  It is only half right because there are two kinds of political correctness.

The first kind, “treating people with respect,” is a very worthwhile impetus: treating people in ways that demonstrate we truly value and respect them and what they have to say is something we should do all the time, regardless of who they are. I see this kind of “Political Correctness” as one important way of living Christ’s command to “love thy neighbor” in everyday life. So, in this light, Neil Gaiman is absolutely correct.

But then, there’s the second kind of “Political Correctness”…

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Civil Disobedience and Gay Marriage?

shutterstock_124493413Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary on Fox radio, recently posted an article that supports a pledge recently signed by many Religious leaders, in which they commit to rising up with acts of “Civil Disobedience” to highlight their opposition to Gay Marriage.

I am puzzled by this: how could “Civil Disobedience” be exercised here? “Civil Disobedience” is the act of deliberately, nonviolently and publicly transgressing a law that prohibits you from exercising rights that others can exercise without a second thought – highlighting the inconsistencies inherent in allowing some people a right that is denied to others.  Further, such disobedience is done from a position of powerlessness and humility, allowing the “illegal” act you perform to speak for itself through confronting others with the pain and injustice you personally experience because of that unjust law. The point is never to directly hurt the other, but rather to force them to see the injustice they are participating-in or allowing to happen (and therefore are complicit in inflicting upon you).

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to widen the legal definition of marriage, so that anyone can marry the person whom they love.  We all know and acknowledge this will be hard to accept for some.  I think it is right and proper – and compassionate – to be cognizant and understanding of this, even though we do not share their opinion, and are not called to set aside our own expanded sense of what is just and right for the purpose of alleviating that discomfort.

But, what law could those (who oppose such a change) disobey to show how their own liberties are being unjustly limited in this case?  Refusing to serve another because they are married to someone of the same sex doesn’t do it – the only person you’d be hurting is yourself (and perhaps those who depend on you) through the resulting loss of income.

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You Sheep Scattering GLORY SEEKER!

Slapping a label on someone is a defense mechanism, it distances “the other” from us: making them seem to be “less than” in our minds. Labels can make others seem inconsequential or less than human, and so easier to dismiss, or ignore, or exclude, or oppress – or hate.

Labels hurt.

Lost in My Life (Price Tags)
by Rachel Perry Welty (2009) from the permanent collection of the Decordova Museum in Lincoln, MA

Not that this isn’t uncommon; but I’ve recently encountered quite a string of people who, being frustrated with my (admittedly) Progressive views, labeled me with various terms, including: “Anti-Jew”, “Palestinian Lover”, “Left Winger”, “Commie Extremist” (really?), and (my favorite) “sheep scattering GLORY SEEKER!”  (A close relative of this is the tendency some have to use phrases that reveal the unspoken labels they’ve applied to you.  Some of the most galling of these – for me – are when such phrases are used in a patronizing way, such as: “Your heart’s in a good place.”)

These attempts to make me into something other than I am got me to thinking: I was slapped with a label; then condemned or belittled for being (in their eyes) that label.  But, they know almost nothing about me beyond their label. So, they are condemning a label, not me – a phantom that has no reality.  There is no reason why I should accept such labels – or any label – as reflecting the “real me”; and in fact they say more about the person who bestowed the label upon me than they do about who I am (or who you are).

We all have a tendency to label people and things – it’s a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, we are far more likely to do it to someone we don’t know than with someone who is close to us – and I’ll tell you my theory as to why…

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Leaping the Gap

I was sitting at my soundboard one day, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front me, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.” I was a bit shocked, as you might guess…

I’ve always been a strong proponent of equal rights and justice for all, but how that has been expressed changed radically one day in the fall of 1995, as a result of an encounter in an all-black church I was a member of at the time, and where I was the chief sound technician for the church’s worship services. …It was (and still is) a transformative moment for me…

I was sitting at my soundboard that morning, running sound checks and preparing for worship, when a young woman, perhaps 16 years old, came in with her friends and sat down right in front of my position in the church’s sanctuary, such that I could plainly see what was printed on the back of her shirt in large white block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL.”  (Well, OK – I added the asterisks!)

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When O When…

A good friend of mine who was on recent a “class field trip” with me to visit an Islamic center here in Boston wrote a blog posting of her thoughts regarding that experience, particularly her feelings of anger and violation because of how women are treated differently than men in this particular congregation, and in the Islamic faith as a whole.  I understand, sympathize and agree with her thoughts, So, I guess I’m stuck on how we should respond on both an individual basis, and as a class, to what she says…

My own guiding principle is that no matter what the accepted conventions of the society at large are, one’s first goal must be to do that which is true to one’s own values; though you can’t push this too far without becoming arrogant and self-righteous.  In this case, we were students of faith visiting the place of worship of another great religion, a faith that is admirable in most respects and which has made magnificent and beautiful contributions to the world in which we live; a faith which is vital, living and provides a great deal of value, purpose and comfort to hundreds of millions of people around the world.  So, balance is needed.  As human beings, we must respect the “otherness” of others, but we must also sometimes stand up for what we know within ourselves is right when the social conventions of others create injustice or oppression – and we must be willing to accept the costs of doing so.

I don’t think guidelines can easily be predetermined along the continuum of endorsement vs. acceptance vs resistance vs protest. What to do is a multidimensional and intensely personal decision in many cases, as it was for my friend (and others) here. But, on the whole, I think it is better to be true to one’s “internal compass”, especially when one has taken the time to discern, think through and systematize one’s values (as I and others are learning to do at ANTS).  Protesting the wearing of head scarves and other measures that (in American eyes) demean or oppress the status of women is often warranted, but was this a time to do so, when we were guests, guests trying to learn more about an often misunderstood and unjustly vilified faith?  I think that is a very, very hard question to answer.

I believe, that as a community of faith, the trials of one affect us all. In that light, I apologize to my friend – there is no reason why I couldn’t have worn a head scarf myself while there, other than I didn’t think of doing so at the time. But then I need to ask myself, was this the proper time and place for me to be in solidarity with others in an act of protest? — Leaving us right back where we started.  In the end, I think she made the right choice: if we had been known to this congregation, respectful protest and seeking of a mutually acceptable resolution would have been seen in a much different light then if we’d simply swooped in on this, the first time they met us, and done something that would have been seen as an unreasoning condemnation or lack of toleration for beliefs that are important to this community as part of their identity as a people of faith.


Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).

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