Meditation Monday - Humanity in the Wake of Tragedy

It has only been a little over two weeks since the tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 31 people dead. In both cases, the shooter used an assault rifle that is rightly described as a weapon of war. Among the innocent victims in El Paso was 63 year old Margie Reckard. One of the heart wrenching images in the following days was of her husband Antonio Basco kneeling in front of a memorial to his wife and the other victims.

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Antonio did not have family in the area, so he invited the public to Margie’s funeral. The response was overwhelming as thousands came to pay their respects and to comfort Antonio. Here is a description from an online Time magazine article:

“He felt like he was going to kind of just be by himself with this whole thing but it’s not so,” Perches Funeral Homes director Harrison Johnson said Thursday of Basco.

While well-wishers waited, Basco arrived to people shouting blessings in English and Spanish. Before entering the funeral home, someone gave him a gift that appeared to be an El Paso t-shirt.

“I love y’all, man,” Basco said, before breaking down.

As the line swelled, Basco came back out to thank attendees personally for coming. People crowded around to hug and touch him. Basco appeared overwhelmed that strangers were now running toward him to show love and offer condolences.

This moving scene was a vivid reminder that each person is a beloved child of God and deserves the kind of respect and compassion poured out to Margie and Antonio. It also reminded me that we have made it too easy and too frequent in our nation to devalue and destroy the lives of God’s children through gun violence. It is not sufficient or accurate to ignore the problem of easy access to guns and blame this violence primarily on mental illness. This is a hurtful stereotype of people who suffer from mental illness, the vast majority of whom are not a danger to anyone. So many died in El Paso, Dayton, and other mass shootings because of the availability of weapons of war outside of the military. I am grateful for the many expressions of love and humanity in the wake of horrific mass shootings. I invite you to join with thousands of others around the country who are coming together to demand changes to our gun laws so that we won’t have to wait for more mass killings to treat each other as beloved children of God.

Meditation Monday: "I Need My Dad...He Is Not a Criminal"

The Lantinx community in our country has been doubly traumatized over the last two weeks. The perpetrator of the mass murder in El Paso, TX made it clear that he was targeting them. The fear of other copy cat killers fueled by anti-immigrant hatred including the President’s rhetoric is an ongoing source of trauma. Within days of that horrific shooting, a mass raid by ICE on several food processing plants in Mississippi resulted in detaining nearly 700 people without regard to the impact this would have on children coming home to empty houses after the first day of school. Even though around half of those originally detained were released, the trauma suffered by those children remains as does the uncertainty of what will happen to those still detained and to the future of those families. A heart wrenching video of an 11 year old girl crying for her father went viral and put a face on the cruel immigration enforcement tactics being implemented against undocumented people many of whom have been hard working members of our society for decades. Although it is difficult to watch, please take a few minutes to view the video.

I certainly understand the need for immigration laws. Yet we have a choice about how we develop and enforce laws. Not long ago, the administration said that arrests and deportations would focus on undocumented people with violent criminal records. That has long since been ignored in favor of the kind of strict and cruel enforcement we saw in Mississippi. In the name of upholding the law, are we willing to inflict life long trauma on children? In a recent article on CNN, a licensed clinical social worker who is working with the children impacted by the Mississippi raids was quoted, "The nightmare isn't over," says Tony Caldwell, a licensed clinical social worker who's spending the weekend leading trauma counseling sessions for children here. "Trauma is a lifetime journey. And the journey started in the past 48 hours for some of these kids, and it'll be with them for the rest of their lives in some way." What kind of nation do we want to be? For those of us who profess faith in God, does the image of God in the children and parents of the Latinx community take priority over strict and cruel enforcement of the letter of the law? There is no doubt that Jesus is with his suffering children wherever they are including El Paso and Mississippi.

Meditation Monday: How Do We Move Toward Healing?

Our country is in a state of shock and mourning in the aftermath of two mass shootings within 24 hours of each other over the weekend. As of this writing 22 innocent people were murdered in El Paso, TX and 9 more innocent people were murdered in Dayton, OH. Sadly such mass shootings are not uncommon in our nation, and we are faced with the urgent questions, “How do we move toward healing?” While there is no simple solution, the proper diagnosis is essential. Almost everyone responds to these tragedies with thoughts and prayers for the victims, their families, and their communities. Yet by now we all know that thoughts and prayers are not enough. Earlier today the President spoke about the weekend shootings and focused on the monstrous nature of the gunmen and the need for swift retribution in the form of the death penalty. For some this may bring temporary relief through expressing feelings of anger and vengeance. Yet this does not lead to healing. As followers of Jesus, we believe that violence cannot be healed through more violence. While the death penalty kills individual perpetrators, it does not deter others who are committed to acting out their own hate and violence. Although there is no simple solution, there are steps we can take to decrease levels of hatred and violence that contribute to mass shootings. Two steps come to my mind and heart. First is to recognize and desist from using language that dehumanizes people. While the President is not directly responsible for the deaths of this weekend’s innocent victims, the language he consistently uses in his rallies fuels stereotypes and dehumanization especially of Latinx people. The killer in El Paso posted a racist hate-filled diatribe using the language of “Hispanic invasion” in ways similar to the President. It is imperative that we resist and call out such violent language from any source whether from a mass shooter, the President, or anyone else. Secondly it is essential to be clear that one thing mass killings have in common is the use of assault type weapons that are designed for firing off many rounds of ammunition as quickly as possible. The brave police responders in Dayton were able to end the shooting within less than a minute, but nine people were killed and many more injured because the gunman used a weapon designed for mass murder. The El Paso gunman also used an assault weapon.There is no justifiable reason why such weapons are legally available in our nation. We can certainly have responsible gun ownership while making assault weapons and high capacity magazines illegal. I hope we will all pray for the victims, families, and communities of this weekend’s mass shootings. I also hope that we will be determined to move toward healing by confronting hate speech from any source and working for sensible gun control.

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Meditation Monday: Listen to the Message Behind the Language

This past week a tweet by the President caused anger and controversy when he attacked Rep. Elijah Cummings and referred to Baltimore as, “…a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess…No human being would want to live there.” News and social media outlets reacted with stories about whether or not these comments were racist. Defenders of the President’s words maintained that there is no reference to race, and the President went on the say that it is Rep. Cummings who is racist. Yet anyone who learns about our nation’s racial history realizes that the word “infested” is a racial dog whistle sending the message that areas of “infestation” are populated by “inferior” people. Any of us who are not black or brown need to listen to our black and brown sisters and brothers when they point out racist language that does not explicitly refer to race or color. Our nation has a long history of using racial dog whistles to avoid appearing racist while sending a racist message. Such dog whistles include the word “bad” to describe neighborhoods and/or schools in majority black and brown areas. Calls for “law and order” in the policing of black and brown communities is another dog whistle sending the message that people in those communities are dangerous and need extra measures of control often including use of excessive force. Instead of trying to justify or defend such language, we need to listen to those impacted by it. A short piece by the CNN reporter Victor Blackwell in response to the President’s tweet about Baltimore received a lot of attention, because he had an unplanned emotional reaction. To me it is a powerful reminder that those impacted by racism are in the best position to help us reveal and challenge the messages behind the racial dog whistles that continue to hurt people and contradict our nation’s espoused principles of equality and justice for all. Victor Blackwell’s piece is posted below:

Meditation Monday: Racism - From Rationalization to Redemption

By now most people have seen the video from the rally in Greenville, NC where in response to President Trump’s critical comments about Rep. Ihan Omar the chant arose “Send Her Back” referring to the fact that she was born in Somalia and came to this country as a child. The chant went on for a full 13 seconds before it dissipated, and the speech continued its critical tone. The chant itself and the President’s obvious acceptance and approval of it shocked many as a contemporary example of a familiar racist and xenophobic theme that has been used at various times in our nation’s history. Others denied that the chant and the President’s response were racist but merely an expression of deep policy differences. To me this is a dangerous rationalization and denial of the reality of ongoing and heightened racism in our country much of which is going unchallenged by the majority of white Christians. As I reflected on this, I picked up my copy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last book written in 1967 called Where Do We Go From Here Chaos or Community? Although the following words were written over 50 years ago, I invite you to apply them to our current situation:

The value in pulling racism out of its obscurity and stripping it of its rationalizations lies in the confidence that it can be changed…The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease. A people who began a national life inspired by a vision of a society of brotherhood can redeem itself. But redemption can come only through humble acknowledgement of guilt and honest knowledge of self.

We can and should be able to have deep and honest disagreements about social and political policies. Yet we also need to be clear that racism in both overt and covert forms has no place in our society or in the Church. Below this post, I include two pictures from my recent visit to the National Memorial For Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. It honors the victims and recalls the racial terror of lynching. Many of the victims were murdered in the presence of large crowds that included children. They rationalized this evil by appealing to their commitment to “traditional values” and their “way of life.” May we have the faith, courage, and commitment to clearly oppose any actions or statements that rationalize the dehumanizing of people of different races, nationalities, sexual orientations, religions, or political perspectives.

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