Saturday, August 11, 2018

... and world peace!

Okay, it's a funny movie, but we probably agree with the punchline.

If you sit down and talk with them, Reps and Dems are deeply concerned about today and tomorrow and the challenges we face on the way to ... peace, safety, security, and a meaningful life.

We want a safe place where our children can play, where we can work and earn a living, where everyone has a chance.  We want our community to watch out for our kids and to help them along.  We want to be treated fairly, and to be heard.  We want freedom to think and speak and to learn, and we want to choose the direction for our lives.
For the short-term, we might (individually or collectively) pursue some advantage for ourself despite the cost to others, a perhaps less noble goal.  That particular perspective leads to competition, of course, which wouldn't be bad except some get left behind and die.  And that competition, if unfettered by moral constraint, leads to classism, racism, nationalism, anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, and the suffering and death of innocents.  That's today, not some sad reference to past horrors.
We've been told to pray for for all those in authority, so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.  We're also warned rather pointedly ... "They crown kings, but without asking me. They set up princes but don’t let me in on it. Instead, they worship that which they built from their wealth, and it will be their ruin."
Can we move forward together?  It's perhaps worth remembering that we're not adversaries and that we're reaching for the same goal.  I wish it were an easier task for us all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Nation ... Oddly Polarized

Americans understand that social inequality and discrimination are still a problem. More than half of Americans believe that to be true, and formal research supports their belief. 

Now note the differences between political parties.  

Less than 1 in 3 Republicans but almost 8 in 10 Democrats say discrimination is a significant problem. That's what political polarization looks like. What part is based on information?  Results are similar across party platform subject lines, and people of faith and conscience have a problem. 

When the racial discrimination question was first asked in 1994, the partisan difference was 13 points. By 2009, it was only somewhat larger (19 points). But today (2017), the gap in opinions between Republicans and Democrats about racial discrimination has increased to 50 points.

Regarding Islam, the details of which are unfamiliar to most, we find that no factual analysis underlies our strong opinions.  Other issues are positioned similarly by the parties. 

Now, 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans see the opposing party as a threat to national well-being, and biased media outlets fan the flame.

Perhaps the most troubling, the Pew Research Center (2014) found that this partisan trend is exaggerated at the polls; specifically, the more extreme an individual's political position, the more likely they are to vote. Now project the effect of that on candidates and governance over time ....
Recent studies conclude our political polarization is largely fear-based.  Today, we have the highest levels of straight-ticket voting since the American National Election Studies first began reporting in 1952.  The trend indicates we are voting against the opposition party rather than for individual candidates based on issues and information.  If, as the studies suggest, our partisanship is based on fear of (animosity toward) the other party, what risks and options do we have ahead of us.
How bad is this problem? In “The Strengthening of Partisan Affect,” Shanto Iyengar and Masha Krupenkin, political scientists at Stanford, note that
We find that as animosity toward the opposing party has intensified, it has taken on a new role as the prime motivator in partisans’ political lives.
Iyengar and Krupenkin argue that
the impact of feelings toward the out-party on both vote choice and the decision to participate has increased since 2000; today it is out-group animus rather than in-group favoritism that drives political behavior.
Along parallel lines, Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, political scientists at Emory University, argue that

one of the most important trends in American politics over the past several decades has been the rise of negative partisanship in the electorate.

Understanding the country is a citizen's task.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Anger's End

"Nelson Mandela can rot in prison until he dies or I die, whichever takes longer."  
~ P. W. Botha Prime Minister of South Africa 

While president of South Africa, Mandela met with President Bill Clinton who, years earlier, had awakened his own family at three o’clock in the morning to watch Mandela being released from prison.  As the television cameras had pressed in, Clinton observed the sheer anger and hatred on Mandela’s face as he walked from his cell block to the front of the prison.  Then in a heartbeat, Mandela’s rage seemed to vanish.  When Clinton asked the South African president about it, Mandela replied,

    "I’m surprised that you saw that, and I regret that the cameras caught my anger. Yes, you are right.

    When I was in prison the son of a guard started a Bible study and I attended.  That day when I stepped out of prison and looked at the people observing, a flush of anger hit me with the thought that they had robbed me of 27 years. Then the Spirit of Jesus said to me, ‘Nelson, while you were in prison you were free, now that you are free don’t become a prisoner.’"

If there were a silver lining to his years of imprisonment, Mandela said it was to look in the mirror and create within himself that which he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, equality, harmony and freedom.  Perhaps his most profound impact and greatest legacy was to teach us, through vivid, living, personal example, to be human before anything else.
On his 93rd birthday, with family

Mandela understood that if he was going to lead his nation out of racial discrimination and into a peaceful democracy he would have to be the change.  (From Madiba Leadership: 5 Lessons Nelson Mandela Taught The World About Change)

"Where in the whole wide world today can you find a more just society than South Africa has?"Prime Minister Botha at the height of apartheid. Many lack understanding of the reality others endure, I guess. Botha died at age 90 without ever acknowledging the horror he had led for so long.
"I never have the nagging doubt of wondering whether perhaps I am wrong."  
In 2006, the year he died, he told interviewers that he had no regrets about how he had run the country.  “I don’t care what they remember about me. I led South Africa on the right path."  There are perhaps some among us today who similarly won't understand.  

Mandela's response is instructive.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


We have no choice in how we begin, but everything that follows is a furious fight to know what's right and to choose accordingly.
The battle is intense for rich and poor, rural and urban, majority and minority, theist and atheist. What principles rule my life and conscience? And what truths have I yet to see?

For further reference, see Perspective or Anger's End

Saturday, June 30, 2018

One hundred died yesterday

About 100 refugees died yesterday when their boat capsized and Italy declined to deploy search and rescue. The bodies recovered by the Libyan coast guard included small children.  Perhaps fourteen or so adults and children were the only survivors.  (NC17 Ref)

Refugees around the world face being left to die, or worse. Italy has closed its ports to vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. Those who attempt to cross from Libya are sent back there where they will face enslavement, violence, and trafficking.

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) urged EU leaders Friday to "show some basic decency" by committing to search and rescue operations for those in trouble at sea -- and then taking them to an actual safe place rather than to Libya.

"EU member states are abdicating their responsibilities to save lives and deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea," said Karline Kleijer, head of emergencies for the aid group. "They do this fully aware of the extreme violence and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer in Libya."

The U.S. is less receptive of legitimate refugees than many.  Do your own research.

In 2017 16.2 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence. This equates to 44,400 people every day and is the highest number ever recorded by UNHCR. The asylum seekers we see at the U.S. border are a small fraction of the persons displaced.

Our border difficulties are part of a larger global trend, but there's little discussion in the U.S. beyond insulting and maligning them all as murderers, terrorists, and criminals. What changed? Is there a Christian standard for such times?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Safer Place

How might we handle the flood of refugees?  Today, perhaps only 1 percent of the world’s refugees are resettled.  Most spend years in temporary accommodations, waiting for a solution; i.e., repatriation, resettlement or local integration.
Then there are the thousands of Somali refugees welcomed in Djibouti.

Somalis have been refugees the longest, as decades of violence and instability have prevented them from safely returning home.  Somalis in the Ali Addeh refugee settlement in Djibouti were born and lived there to adulthood.  It is now their home in every way.

Djibouti presents an alternative to isolationism: hospitality and protection as an intentional response to regional insecurity.  The country is poor and has perhaps little to offer, but it is a safe place for the refugees, a great step up from where they were.  There's help for them there and perhaps some hope for their children.

Djibouti was established as a host country for persons seeking refuge.  It won independence from France in 1977, just three weeks after war began between Ethiopia and Somalia.  Tens of thousands of refugees flooded across the border, seeking safety, food and water.  All were welcomed.  Eight years later, when famine and conflicts in the Horn of Africa intensified, tens of thousands more refugees came.

Government officials in Djibouti proudly cite their history, a national ethic of hospitality, and the economic advantages of population movement and diversity as all central to the country’s handling of refugees.  Their law ensures refugees, asylum-seekers, and Djiboutian citizens equal rights to education, health care, work, and movement outside refugee camps.

Today, migrants in Djibouti include Yemeni refugees fleeing war, Somalis fleeing political insecurity and drought, and Ethiopians escaping political persecution and deadly poverty.

This is the Loyada checkpoint on Djibouti's eastern border; about 250 meters farther, a Somali guard station.  It was quiet when we were there.  It's just a few miles away from where my friends live.

I met a gracious fellow in eastern Africa, just a few kilometers from the Somali border.  He has a large family; his wife and children plus a widow and her children who they'd taken in.  He didn't have much, some goats and a camel and a house he'd built from scavenged wood and sheet metal, but he'd accepted them and made a safe place for them.  It's a long and incredible story; they came as refugees.

Waving goodbye, the last time.

His kids dragged me home to meet the family, and we became comfortable friends.  They welcomed me every time I was in country, and they never asked for anything.  They work hard to survive and the kids work hard to help. 

It took me a long time to grasp the depth and breadth of his grace as a man and their nobility as people.  As I remember the smiling faces of his children, I lament what he might think of my country today and how he and his family might have been treated had they come to our border.