Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: social justice (page 1 of 2)

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)

becd03f302a96b99c2b0f5c06f66fd9aAs the title suggests, Paradise Lost 3 is the third in a trilogy of films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for HBO. They have been telling the story of the West Memphis 3, three young men who were arrested for the brutal murders of three boys in 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas. The original documentary raised some questions about the investigation and prosecution of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.

This third film, which aired in January 2012 on HBO, captures somewhat of a miracle in the American justice system. After seventeen years in prison, we see them released in 2011. Echols was on death row. The conviction was based, as the film shows us, on flawed circumstantial evidence and a confession from Jessie Misskelley, who had an IQ of seventy-two. Using DNA testing which was not available in 1993, the three young men were found to be innocent of the crimes.

Continue reading

Sermon: Step Up and Step Out

Night Moves (2014)

night_moves_ver3_xlgDirector Kelly Reichardt delivers an intriguing ecoterrorism thriller with Night Moves. Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning), and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are done protesting. They are ready to make, not just a statement, but a strong statement. They chose to blow up a dam.

The film’s first movement follows trio pull off elaborate con acts to acquire the materials needed to fulfill the plan. The second movement unfolds the carrying out of the event and the following ramifications. The third, and final, movement of the film chronicles the down fall of Josh.

Continue reading

The Normal Heart (2014)

normalheartposterIn the 1980’s, the first case of what would later be known as AIDS was reported in the United States. The Normal Heart is HBO’s TV movie version of Larry Kramer’s Tony-winning play. Mark Ruffalo is Ned Weeks who has had enough. He has been in the closet for most of his adolescence and adult life, as so many of his friends have done. But, when his friends start dying, he becomes angry. This, at the time, unknown disease has to have a voice.

Julia Roberts is Dr. Emma Brookner, who has been submitting research papers to the scientific and medical communities for years. But, because the disease primarily affects gay men, it has been ignored. Emma’s anger is only matched by Ned’s. At times, though, it is a bit too much. Ned seems to alienate everyone, including the gay community. We know, from our side of history, that he is correct. Until the community being affected by the disease finds their voice and starts speaking out, it will be near impossible for change to take place.

Continue reading

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.

Sermon: Savior, Like a Shepherd

A sermon preached April 21, 2013 at Peakland United Methodist Church the Sunday after the Boston Marathon bombing. The texts for the sermon were Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, and John 10:22-30.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2012)

Paradise Lost 3As the title suggests, Paradise Lost 3 is the third in a trilogy of films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for HBO. They have been telling the story of the West Memphis 3, three young men who were arrested for the brutal murders of three boys in 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas. The original documentary raised some questions about the investigation and prosecution of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.

This third film, which aired in January 2012 on HBO, captures somewhat of a miracle in the American justice system. After seventeen years in prison, we see them released in 2011. Echols was on death row. The conviction was based, as the film shows us, on flawed circumstantial evidence and a confession from Jessie Misskelley, who had an IQ of seventy-two. Using DNA testing which was not available in 1993, the three young men were found to be innocent of the crimes.

The film retraces how the prosecution portrayed the three young men as followers of a satanic cult, mostly because one of the men, Echols, wore black. What follows in the community of West Memphis, Arkansas is a wave of fear. In addition, the filmmakers have mentioned that they were resented in West Memphis as “Jew boys from New York.” Together, these things become a reflection on the fear of “the other.” The fear of the other leads to seeing justice in different ways. For some, they wanted the three young men to “burn in hell.” For others, seeing them in prison or on death row was sufficient.

As such, we tend to wear blinders when it comes to justice in this country. There are innocent people behind bars and we think that justice has been served. The story of the West Memphis 3 challenges us to seek justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). In light of viewing this film, it has occurred to me that this verse from Micah has been used a lot, yet has not been lived. What does it mean to seek justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? Paradise Lost offers a glimpse into what it does not look like.

A community out for blood without truly understanding the details is not seeking justice, loving kindness, or walking humbly with God. To seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God is to see the world—to see others—as God sees them. We must remember that God’s justice is not our human (or even American) justice. We should approach justice with humility and respect.

The film was named Best Documentary by the National Board of Review.

Disappointment & Love

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being non-conformists.

Elysium (2013)

Elysium Movie Review - jasoncstanley.comMatt Damon is Max, a man who is trying to get his life back to together and has hopes of a better life on Elysium. Turns out that in 2154, the Earth is a grime place, while the exclusive 1% live on a space station called Elysium. There they have the best of the best. Resorts. Fine dining. Beautiful landscapes. And most of all, health care.

Elysium is from the creative mind of Neill Blomkamp, who brought us District 9. Blomkamp is no stranger to using his films for social commentary. And I’m going to put this out there, but the film seems to be paying some kind of homage to Mad Max.

The Earth scenes are limited to a ghetto of Los Angeles, that is mostly a Latino neighborhood. Max grew up here, looking to the skies, hoping to become a citizen of Elysium. A nun gives him a locket with a picture of the Earth, and tells him that the view of them is more beautiful. After doing time for being a car thief, Max has gotten himself a factory job. Someone has to develop the robots that police the streets.

It’s not the best job. His boss is a jerk, and its dangerous. Max ends up being exposed to radiation, and being told he only has five days left to live. The pills he has been given will only slow it down.

In the meantime, Jodie Foster is the defense secretary who makes it her mission to protect the freedoms of the 1%, even killing immigrants from Earth who try to cross over into Elysium. She is coming under some heavy heat from the President, and plans a coup with the CEO of the company that Max works with (William Fichtner). The CEO will develop a computer program that will enable anyone else to be President.

Back on Earth, Max makes a deal with Spider that he will download information from the CEO in exchange for a ticket to Elysium. They have no idea that the CEO has downloaded the program he has created into his own brain and is on his way to deliver it to the defense secretary. The best scene in the film is possibly the one where Max and his buddies shoot down the CEO’s private jet and attempt to steal the data.

Most of the group is killed off, but Max survives. He hides out at the home of an old childhood friend who happens to be a nurse (Alice Braga). Her daughter is dying from leukemia and could use the healthcare of Elysium.

Eventually, Max allows himself to die to give Spider time to install the computer program that Max downloaded. Max’s sacrifice means that all people on Earth are now citizens of Elysium. Including his friend’s dying daughter, who longer is dying.

Max becomes Christ-like. After searching for his own fulfillment, he comes to the realization that his death (something he knows is coming) will benefit the many. Max’s actions are a vast contrast from the defense secretary’s. Perhaps Blomkamp is saying that the privilege of the 1% is at the cost to the 99%. Perhaps he is saying that universal healthcare is needed. That it is unacceptable for a child to die from leukemia when there is a way to heal her.

Elysium by definition is a place or condition of ideal happiness. The power is that elysium is too often an exclusive thing. Even in Jesus’ day, happiness was limited to a select few. The powers that be kept the weaker, poorer in their places. The wealth of the 1% was gained on the back of the 99%. Jesus broke into this system with a message and with a life that was counter to all that.

Love was for all. Justice was for all. Peace is for all. There are no outsiders. In Blomkamp’s tale, citizenship is for all. Healthcare is for all. There are no outsiders. It is an important message. We are all the same. We are all in this together. We are all citizens of the same Kingdom.

Repost: The Greatest Gift of All

Linus recites Luke 2:

Linus recites Luke 2:

This post was first posted on December 24, 2012. 

 

Sometimes, we can feel like Charlie Brown. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and wonder, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, much like the angels on that first Christmas, remind us what Christmas is all about.

“Peace and goodwill toward men.”

Peace and goodwill is hard to come by these days, as it was that first Christmas.  Charles Campbell reminds us, “The political powers, in both Jesus’ day and our own, play on fear to get their way – whether it be the fear of the emperor, the fear of terrorists, the fear of the ‘other’ (the immigrant), or the fear of death.”

Government mandated oppression.

Discrimination against those were different than them.

The poor were kept poor.

People suffered from hunger.

Violence was evident on the streets daily.

But, that was in “those days.”

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, NRSV).

The arrival of Jesus brought with it a “new day.” There is no longer need for fear, only joy. There is no longer need for corruption, only freedom. There is no longer need for hunger, only feasting. There is no longer need for occupation, only liberation. There is no longer need for war, only peace.

And yet, we struggle to see this “new day.”

Political parties inspire fear of the other party.

Hatred and bullying of someone, anyone, who is different from us is rampant.

The great divide between the have’s and the have-not’s gets wider and wider.

People suffer from hunger.

Violence is evident on our streets and in our schools.

And there is something deep inside of us that wants to cry out like Charlie Brown, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” Sure, we get all these warm fuzzies at this time of year that make us feel so good. It’s great giving and receiving gifts. It’s great going to parties. It’s great having family and friends around.

But, at least for me, there is something hard to swallow about Christmas. That is with all the joy, there is grieving and hopelessness. And I don’t mean to put a damper on things. From Central America and back, I have seen suffering at the hands of poverty, addictions, and violence. And while we try to not think about these things at Christmas, we have to remember this is why the baby boy was born. This poverty, these addictions, and this violence is the reason God became man. This suffering is the reason that Jesus was born.

Jesus is not just the reason for the season. Jesus is the greatest gift of all. In that lowly manger sits hands of grace that bring healing and hope into our hopelessness.

John’s gospel talks about Jesus’ birth as a great Light that penetrates  the darkness of the world. Matthew quotes Jesus telling the disciples that “You are the Light of the World.” This is just one of the many commissioning sayings of Jesus. God sent Jesus as the Light, we are the light-bearers. It is now our responsibility to carry that Light into the dark crevices of the world. Because we claim Jesus Christ, we now become a gift to the word.

Taking the Light to the oppressed.

Taking the Light to the poor and the hungry.

Taking the Light to the bullied and the bullies.

Taking the Light into the violent streets.

It is us who must act. It is us who must bring peace and goodwill to all. It is our gift to give.

Older posts

© 2017 Jason C. Stanley

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑