a poem for July 4th

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus, read at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1886.

Pilsen MuralNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Mural6

 

 

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Stop Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Matt Rindge

Stop-Celebrating-MLK

An extremely thought-provoking article written by Matt Rindge of Red Letter Christians, on America’s “annual ritual of misremembering Martin Luther King, Jr.” The article continues below.

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Although Rev. Dr. King often indicted what he called the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism,” America chiefly associates King with only one of these ills; our predominant picture of King is as an opponent of racial segregation.

But this image is a distortion. For in the last few years of his life, King increasingly aimed his prophetic critique at the twin “evils” of poverty and America’s militarism.

Efforts to help poor people led King to be in Memphis on the day of his assassination. He was there to join a strike of 1,300 sanitation workers seeking better working conditions, higher wages, and the right to join a union.

King raised troubling questions about an economic system that perpetuates poverty. In an August 1967 speech (“Where Do We Go from Here”) — eight months before he was killed — he declared:

“Why are there 40 million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

The Memphis sanitation strike was a part of the “Poor People’s Campaign,” which King began to organize in the last months of his life. This campaign would shift the primary focus of the Civil Rights Movement to the economic concerns of “poor people of all colors.” The campaign would seek, among other things, to secure poor people with jobs that paid a fair wage, unemployment insurance, and education. The campaign’s goals died along with King.

The week before he was killed King gave a speech (“Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”) in which he offered an alternative economic proposal:

“. . . we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge — in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.’ And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.”

In his final speech, King returned to poverty. Although most clips of his “mountaintop” speech feature the foreshadowing of his death (“I may not get there with you …”), King’s primary aim was to motivate people to support the striking sanitation workers in Memphis. Quoting Luke’s gospel, King maintained:

“Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,’ and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

“It’s all right to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day.”

Restructuring society would require concrete economic changes, and King made these clear. He instructed the audience to stop purchasing Coca-Cola and Wonder Bread. He called for a “bank-in” movement, advising financial withdrawals from downtown Memphis banks and insurance companies.

King’s final statement on poverty appeared 12 days after his assassination in a Look magazine article, “Showdown for Nonviolence.” The same non-violent demonstrations used to fight segregation, King argued, should now be organized to address “the economic problem — the right to live, to have a job and income …” King called for an “Economic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” that would “guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work” and an “income for all who are not able to work.”

Economic justice, it seems, surpassed racial equality as King’s chief concern.

“The economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting.”

In the last year of his life, King also devoted increasing attention to critiquing America’s use of violence in Vietnam. Speaking at New York’s Riverside Church — one year to the day before he was killed — King described the incongruity between his preaching and America’s practices:

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

King suggested that a commitment to the world’s most vulnerable members should prevail over patriotism:

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy . . .”

King viewed America’s devotion to war in religious terms:

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Twenty-six days later, King again spoke out on Vietnam in a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. He described America’s hypocritical responses to his messages of non-violence.

“There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward Jim Clark,’ but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children.’ There’s something wrong with that press!”

Remembering King primarily for his struggle against segregation is to misremember him. (America does with King what the Church has done to Jesus: remade him in our own image.) Domesticating and sterilizing King is the only way to integrate him into our national consciousness. The unlikely alternative would be to question two of America’s sacred engines: its economy and military. Ironically, King’s critiques of poverty and militarism are more relevant today than his work on behalf of racial integration.

To honor King, we need to stop celebrating him. Perhaps the very nature of celebration makes distortion inevitable. A National Day of Lamenting King would be more fitting, and helpful in calling to mind the ways we betray two fundamental aspects of his legacy.

**This article originally appeared on Spokane Faith & Values

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Matthew S. Rindge is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. He is currently writing “Cinematic Parables: Subverting the Religion of the American Dream.”

Jesus and the Parable of the Man who Needed Health Care – Eric Pazdziora

Considering recent conversations sparked by developments in the national healthcare scene, I thought I’d share a very pertinent reflection by Eric Pazdziora, the original of which can be found here. The point of posting this is NOT to make a political statement or to engage in all the partisan positioning that has been happening – if you are looking for an argument, please look elsewhere. Rather, the goal IS to re-frame a familiar story in a way that I hope makes every Christian, regardless of political opinion, reflect anew on how we are called to live.

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Vincent_van_GoghYes, there is such a parable in the original. The first several times I didn’t realize what it was about; Jesus insists on framing the question in a way that invalidates most of our categories of discussing the issue. I’ve taken the liberty of writing my own paraphrase, with a few hopefully not-entirely-unwarranted interpolations and transpositions, to make it as immediate to you as it was to me when I saw it. The categories of people in Jesus’ story have become people who might correspond in our society. If you’re interested in debating the current political discussion on health care, I’m sure there are lots of other places on the Internet for you to do so– this is about something much bigger.  EMP

A theologian came up to Jesus one day and said, “Teacher, what exactly, in your opinion, does a person have to do to inherit eternal life?”

“Do?” said Jesus. “Well, if it’s a question of doing, I suppose you’d better start with the Law of Moses. What does it say to you?”

“Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself,” said the theologian promptly.

“Good answer,” said Jesus. “If you can do that, you’re all set.”

“Well,” said the theologian, hemming and hawing a bit, “of course, we have to understand these things with the proper doctrinal and textual nuance inherent in the social and kerygmatical context of the times. For instance, how, contextually, would you interpret the word ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus smiled sadly and said, “Let me tell you this story….

This guy was walking down the road one day, minding his own business, when all of a sudden a street gang jumped on him, beat him up, took all his money, and got away with it. The gang left him lying in the gutter, bleeding all over the place, broken bones, semi-conscious, barely alive.

Well, who should come along but a prominent conservative pastor. The conservative took a look at the guy in the gutter and felt sorry for him. But he figured that it was not his fault if somebody didn’t have enough street smarts to look out for himself in a bad neighborhood, and anyway it wouldn’t be right for someone to require him to give his hard-earned money away to the undeserving. So he crossed over to the other side of the street.

Walking the other way was a liberal community worker, and when he saw the conservative guy ignore the hurting man like that, he started an argument with him. “It isn’t right to refuse health care to people who need it– but not by taking my money– but everyone should have an equal chance– but that will give the government too much control– but the insurance companies are….” They got so into their argument that they walked away together, and left the man in the gutter.

So then a socialist* came by. A genuine bleeding-heart socialist, who was in favor of gay rights and PETA and legalizing marijuana and the whole bit. He saw the guy bleeding to death in the gutter, and he grabbed a first aid kit and started putting bandages on his wounds. Then he helped him into his Prius and drove him to the nearest hospital. Stayed with him the whole time, and told the doctors and nurses everything he could to help. Eventually they stabilized the guy and got him on life support. The socialist said, “I don’t think this guy has any insurance, so I tell you what– Here’s a few hundred dollars now, and you can send the rest of the bill to me; I’ll take care of it myself.”

“Now,” said Jesus, “you tell me: Which one of these people was a neighbor to the man who needed health care?”

“The one who actually did something for him,” said the theologian.

“Well then,” said Jesus, “go do it.”

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*The original: Luke 10:25-37Note, I chose the “socialist” simply because I thought he might be as shocking to the present-day church as the Samaritan was to the Jews– no other political statement should be inferred.