Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Justice

The Commercials Won

logo--events-superbowlPrimaryLast night an average of 111.3 million Americans watched the Super Bowl. I have to be honest, I went to bed for the game went into overtime and I did not know that the Patriots won until later today.

While I did watch the game, I was blown away by the commercials. Many of which began in development a year ago.

Commentators took their blogs, newspapers, and screens to declare which were the best and the worst. While I do not intend to add to the commentary clutter, some of the commercials gave me the “feels.” They were short films that communicated deep truths that we need at a time such as this.

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Guest Post: Death Penalty Vigil

by Emma Johnston

“One of the most effective means of disengaging the church from the work of justice is making injustice a philosophical concept” – Soong Chan Rah.

Over the past three years, I was a full time seminarian at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. From the very first class, my faith was challenged.  One of the most beautiful things of the seminary environment is that your faith is questioned, broken down, and then built up through deeper learning and understanding of Scripture and its interactions with other texts, and the ministry that we are engaging in during our internships.

In September of 2015, my small group and I endeavored to learn more about systemic issues in our world.  Our focus was the death penalty and for them, and for me, it was a chance to challenge our beliefs and to engage in a conversation that is often not had on college campuses.  We watched the movie Dead Man Walking, and some of the young women still felt like capital punishment was a viable option, whereas some were challenged to reflect more on the justice system that our country champions but on both sides, there was compassion and a willingness to listen and question themselves.

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Book Review: Katrina: After the Flood

katrina-9781451692228_hrKatrina: After the Flood, Gary Rivlin, Simon & Schuster, 2015.

It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since Katrina rolled through New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf. It also marked ten years since Rita left her mark on southwest Louisiana. The focus has always been on New Orleans, perhaps because of the storm that followed in Katrina’s wake.

In his new book, Katrina: After the Flood, journalist Gary Rivlin portrays the dysfunction, the politics, and the blatant racism that followed the storm. On assignment for The New York Times, Rivlin spent most of the year after Katrina living in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In that time, he put his attention on “the mess ahead.”  This is reflective in his writing.

The book begins when Katrina landed in August of 2005. As I read just the first few chapters, I was struck by the level of inhumane decisions that were chosen. Based on what, exactly? Fear? Uncertainty? Racism? I felt sick reading the stories that open this book.

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Guest Post: The Reality of Ebola in Our Lives as God’s People

The Rev. Nancy Robinson is an ordained deacon in the Virginia Conference and, along with her husband Kip, missionaries to Sierra Leone. She reflects on the reality of Ebola in our lives as God’s people in the world.

Kip and NancyKip and I, General Board of Global Ministries missionaries to Sierra Leone, are currently exiled to the United States and are asked not to return until a later date to be determined by those in leadership; Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and leadership in Sierra Leone. We are standing in the gap, sharing the story of an amazing people and help those here in the States to understand the context and put a face on what is a concern on all of our minds.

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Sierra Leone Bishop on Ebola Crisis

 

Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone shares about the Ebola crisis in the video from the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church.
photo by M. Vest

photo by M. Vest

Last night I received a text from a church member and reader of this blog, Linda, to do the ALS ice bucket challenge. Today, the senior pastor and music minister joined me and we three together accepted the challenge. (The video is below).

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Support For Adoptive Families

Last month while in Washington DC, I advocated on Capital Hill for adoptive families.

Advocating for Families who Adopt.

Advocating for Families who Adopt.

Beyond the Hashtag

from catchwordbranding.com

from catchwordbranding.com

You have probably seen, or even tweeted, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It has been used in response to the kidnappings of Nigerian school girls at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Celebrities, politicians, the First Lady, and everyday people like you and me have tweeted the hashtag. In all, over a million tweets have beckoned for the return of these Nigerian girls.  And that’s a good thing. The more voices that rise up, the more awareness there is about an issue, like how selling girls into slavery is not okay.

And the use of the social media has reached the attention of those that can indeed do something about this. The U. S. government has since gotten involved to aid the Nigerian government in locating the over 200 kidnapped girls. It took the hashtag, first tweeted by Nigerian mothers, to get the worldwide attention it has today. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all over the world, including the United States, every day. The hashtag got our attention.

Blogger Merrilyn Akpapuna, a 20-something Nigerian, recently wrote this about #BringBackOurGirls:

We may not be able to physically save these girls but what we can do is talk. Our voice is our power and if everyone is talking about this, we increase the likelihood that something will be done about it.

Our voices are important. Our voices, like that of the Baptist in Mark’s gospel, are crying out in the wilderness for repentance. Our voices, like that of the whale-swallowed Jonah, are calling for a change in evil ways. Our voices have power.

But it occurred to me that maybe the hashtag is too easy. Not just #BringBackOur Girls, but any social activist kind of hashtag. Maybe we hide our voices behind the hashtag instead of truly raising our voices against an injustice like sex trafficking. There is a level of comfort when we tweet a hashtag from our smart phones while not disrupting the normalcy of our lives.

The work of justice is disrupting.

In the process of pondering these thoughts and writing this post over the last few weeks, Caitlin Dewey wrote an article titled “Is tweeting a hashtag better than doing nothing? Or about the same?” in the Friday, May 9 edition of The Washington Post. In the article Dewey raises some of the same questions I had been pondering. She also outlines how hashtags have become a form of “slacker” activism.

Is hashtag activism just being lazy? Well, it’s debatable, as Dewey highlights. As a Christian, I accept that I am called out of my comfort zones to pursue justice with peace and compassion. But, I also recognize that for some tweeting a hashtag with social justice implications (#JusticeforTrayvon for example) may be coming out of a huge comfort zone. But for the rookie or the veteran tweeter, it seems to be easier to tweet a commonly tweeted hashtag to show support for something and call it activism, justice work, or a good deed. Whatever we call it, it becomes comfortable and easy.

The other week I was in Washington, D. C. stepping out of my own comfort zone by advocating for bills or changes in bills that were before the Senate and House. I never imagined that I would end up on Capital Hill doing something like this. But when an issue or an injustice becomes deeply personal to you and people you care for, it moves you beyond the hashtag.

Injustice moves us beyond our comfort zones.

One of the things I was advocating for on Capital Hill was the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act of 2013 (S 1056/HR 2144). While the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 became a permanent fixture to the tax code, the refundable portion of the credit which was made permanent for two years (2010 and 2011) is no longer in effect. This new act will restore that refundable portion creating financial flexibility to families who are interesting in building their families through adoption. 

Here’s more information from a press release after the bill was introduced in May 2013:

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one-third of all adopted children live in families with annual household income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.  Despite the common misperception that only wealthy families adopt, nearly 46 percent of families adopting from foster care are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  Many of these families’ tax burdens are so low that they cannot benefit from the adoption tax credit at all unless it is refundable.

While I could have stayed in Lynchburg in the comfort of my home and hashtagged my heart out, there is something to be said about stepping out of your comfort zone. And going to Capital Hill was way out of my comfort zone. We were meeting with staff of Senators and Representatives from Virginia. We maneuvered through the labyrinth of the basement hallways of the Capital. We ate lunch in the Senate offices cafeteria. We awkwardly waited outside of the offices of politicians.

All of this stuff we did on a casual, normal Wednesday, that I never dreamed I would ever do, made a difference in me. It gave me some experience in how politicians become aware of bills that could indeed make a difference. It challenged the myth that our voices matter (they do, by the way). I grew in understanding about advocacy, but also from hearing the stories of others. And none of it would have happened it had not stepped out of my comfort zone.

Stepping out of our comfort zones is a good thing.

But, it is also something that requires a little bit of responsibility on our part. We do not just simply raise our voices. If we are going to go beyond the hashtag and step out of our comfort zones to raise awareness, we need to be aware ourselves. Merrilyn Akpapuna, the young Nigerian woman I mentioned earlier offers some great advice:

So, do more research about this incident and talk about it on social media using the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. If you are a global citizen [something I continually strive to be] who is altruistic enough to care about not just the citizens of your country but the human race, you will agree that these are Our girls. So let’s start talking and say hey better me!

So, let’s get passionate, let’s tweet some hashtags, and let’s raise awareness of injustices around us. Let us also do our research, be aware of what we want others to be aware of, and let’s be courageous enough to step out of comfort zones beyond the hashtag.

Diakonia

washing_feet_011At the core of United Methodism is diakonia, the servant ministry of the church. We, like the prophet Isaiah and the teenage girl Mary, can sing, “Here I am, Lord.” Jesus’ primary form of ministry was diakonia. Despite his disciples’ cries, he allowed the little children to come to him. He talked and shared the Way with the Samaritan woman. He sat at table with sinners. He washed the feet of his disciples. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and touched the leper. As diakonos (servant) Jesus was the bridge between Word and world; between the Healer and the broken; between God and humanity.

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Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Best Original Story, Best Film Editing, and Best Makeup & Hairstyling.

Update: Won Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto; Won Best Makeup & Hairstyling; Won Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey

Dallas Buyer's ClubIn 1985 Rock Hudson, the famed actor, learned that he had the HIV virus that births AIDS. Rumors abound quickly (and they still do) that Hudson was homosexual, which was the cause of the disease. As Dallas Buyer’s Club opens, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is playing cards in a rodeo locker room. Their playing board is a newspaper with the Hudson story.

This is the kind of details that director Jean-Marc Vallée provides in this film. At times they are so subtle that one may miss them in the first viewing. Nevertheless, it is the attention to details that make this film Oscar worthy. The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto).

McConaughey and Leto both put their bodies through extreme measures to portray their HIV positive characters. The drastic amount of weight loss for a character can go one of two ways. It can be a huge distraction from the performance of the actor, or it can enhance the actor’s portrayal making the performance even more powerful. Here, McConaughey and Leto are the latter. The drastic weight loss only enhances the powerful performance they give, winning both actors Golden Globes.

In the scene where they are playing cards on Rock Hudson’s story in the newspaper, Ron makes every inappropriate comment possible about Hudson and his sexuality. The very first scene has Ron having sex with a woman at the rodeo. Right out of the gate, we know that this rodeo rider is arrogant and homophobic. He is fueled by cigarettes, liquor, and occasionally speed or coke. In every sense of the word, Ron Woodroof is the stereotypical, straight, white male.

Ron’s life, attitude, and story changes after an electrical accident at a Texas oil field. The doctors at the hospital report to him that he is HIV+. He is given 30 days to live. Ron cannot, and will not, accept this news. He is not Rock Hudson. His attitude, which was so common in the 1980s, was that if he was straight, he could not have AIDS. It takes some time before Ron accepts his reality, and is able to recall that he most likely contracted the disease when having an unprotected sexual encounter with two women at the rodeo, and one them was heavily using drugs.

Once accepting his disease, he works out a deal with a hospital orderly to get the new drug AZT. When that option is no longer one, Ron makes a trip to Mexico where a former American doctor is practicing medicine. It is there that Ron learns how dangerous AZT can be. And it is when we learn that the big pharmaceutical companies are using the epidemic to push AZT, even though it does not work as they say it does. Jennifer Gardner gives a mediocre performance as Dr. Eve Saks, who will be the only doctor in the Dallas hospital who stands up against the pharmaceutical push of the drug. It is a strong character, who cares deeply for her patients and the only one brave enough and bold enough to stand up to big pharmaceutical. Yet, Gardner’s performance of this strong character is limp at best.

DBC priestRon takes his health care into his own hands. He dresses up as a cancer stricken priest to smuggle drugs into the United States. He attempts to sell the drugs to homosexual men, but his arrogance and attitude get in the way. He meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual who is able to help Ron get in with the community. Ron’s friendship with Rayon is what breaks down Ron’s arrogance and attitude toward those who are different from him. It is through this relationship that Ron has his self-awakening moment. He stands up for Rayon in the grocery store when one of his former co-workers and friends makes unnecessary remarks to Rayon. Ron discovers his bravery and boldness.

Together, Rayon and Ron create a co-op called the Dallas Buyer’s Club. Individuals who are looking for better drugs for HIV and AIDS buy a membership into the Club that then gives them free medications. It was modeled after similar Clubs in other states. The pharmaceutical drugs that are being used, are not helping the patients. The medications that Ron brings in from all over the world, make a difference. Neither of them cure.

dallasbuyersclub

It is hard to say who redeems who in this film. Rayon’s presence in Ron’s life changes Ron for the better. Unfortunately, while the same can be true about Ron’s presence in Rayon’s life, the change is not quite the same. While Ron changes his behaviors (and attitudes), Rayon continues to use recreational drugs. Ron makes the commitment to change, Rayon struggles with what that commitment looks like.

As blogger Randall Golden pointed out in his post about the film, there is a very important message, subtle, but important after the end credits:

AIDS is not over. Access to treatment could save more lives.

AIDS is one of the greatest epidemics of our time. There are people who are still being mistreated, not getting access to appropriate medications, and who are being treated as outsiders. The call by Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves is such an important call. The men and women all around the world who are suffering from HIV and AIDS deserve our love. Just as Jesus had bravery and boldness to touch the leper, may we who claim Christ as Lord have the same bravery and boldness to touch those with AIDS.

© 2017 Jason C. Stanley

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