Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Choice of the Episcopal Church: Prosperity, or the Poor?

 
According to the Revised Common Lectionary, the Gospel appointed for today is Luke 12:13-21, which reads:
 
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
 
Knowing that, it was particularly disturbing to read in today’s New York Post that Trinity Wall Street’s rector, The Rev. James Cooper, and the parish vestry are moving forward with plans to construct 296,000 square feet of new church offices, meeting rooms, and residential space just behind the main sanctuary (presumably at the corner of Rector and Trinity Place, if my memory of that part of lower Manhattan is correct). Even more disconcerting was when I read that Rev. Cooper forced out members of the vestry opposed to his plan and replaced them with allies who are working with him to see the project through.
 
While musing about this, a friend pointed out an earlier article from the April 24, 2013 edition of the New York Times that covered the revelation that, after years of hiding certain financial data from the public, Trinity was forced - as a result of lawsuit filed against it by a parishioner - to reveal that they are sitting on assets totaling more than $2 billion. To put that in perspective, the value of their assets is somewhat on par with the 2013 state budgets of Wyoming ($3.4 billion) and Delaware ($3.7 billion).
 
Now of course I recognize the fact that assets are not the same as cash-on-hand, and it also doesn't take into account any liabilities. But out of curiosity, what is the church doing with the revenue generated by their assets? According to the Times,
 
It reported $158 million in real estate revenue for 2011, the majority of which went toward maintaining and supporting its real estate operations, the financial statement indicates. Of the $38 million left for the church’s operating budget, some $4 million was spent on communications, $3 million on philanthropic grant spending and $2.5 million on the church’s music program, church officials said. Nearly $6 million went to maintain Trinity’s historic properties, including the main church building, which was built in 1846; St. Paul’s Chapel; and several cemeteries, where luminaries including Alexander Hamilton and Edward I. Koch are buried. The remainder went into the church’s equity investment portfolio.
 
The statement also apparently shows that the rector makes a salary of $1.3 million.
 
Nowhere in the article do we read how much the congregation contributes in terms of tithes, so I can only base my comments on what is presented here. Regardless, I question: where is the spending for those in need? Where is the money to house the homeless? Funds for feeding the hungry? Support for employment programs?
 
Are these programs included in the "philanthropic grant spending"? If that's the case, why is spending on that $1 million less than what is spent on communications? And does an individual parish need to spend $4 million on communications - which seems particularly ludicrous in light of the fact that the total expenditure on communications in the FY 2013-5 budget of the entire national Episcopal Church is just under $9.1 million.
 
In a letter to the members of Congress from the Episcopal Church in 2011, regarding proposed cuts in the FY 2012 budget, the Church wrote, "The Episcopal Church urges you to find budget solutions that do not further burden poor and vulnerable populations in the United States, refugees and displaced populations, or impoverished communities around the world. Funding for programs that serve the poor and vulnerable sustains and saves millions of lives at home and around the world and, particularly in times of economic struggle, it must not be cut."
 
At the 2012 General Convention, a resolution was passed in the House of Deputies directing the sale of the Episcopal Church's headquarters in New York as a cost-saving measure; it was voted down in the House of Bishops. At the time, Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce said, "It is fiscally irresponsible to demand immediate sell ofa building without knowing where you're going, knowing if the economic climate is right. (The Rev. Dan Webster posted a good rebuttal to this general sentiment at Episcopal Cafe.)
 
Should Trinity Church - or the national church, for that matter - take to heart the words in today's Gospel, or is the Gospel being forgotten in some quarters? Are we about the Gospel message - feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor, eliminating the margins for the marginalized, and sharing the Good News of Christ - or are we about property, buildings, money, and assets?
 
Where are our priorities?

After mulling all of this over, I planned on posting right away - but thought better of it and sent it to a friend to read through for her thoughts.  The articles and my thoughts raised some other points in her mind, and (with her indulgence) I'll include them here as they merit strong discussion.  I certainly don't have the answers - but I wonder if many focused on property and investment growth would in the church would have these answers:

1) Trinity's position has the potential to allow them to do much good in the world - but also to corrupt the view of what is adequate and necessary.  Right now, based on these articles and their own comments, they seem lost in the "worldly muck" of budgets, balance sheets, and investment portfolios.

2) The reference to "philanthropic grant spending" shows the church has lost sight of the meaning, beauty, and reward of Christian language and replaced it with Wall Street-speak.

3) One of the parishioners has referred to the new construction as symbolically wrong.  Here, I'll directly quote my friend: "What does this say in action about our church?  And also, very importantly, what does it symbolize?  How do we teach the world through our actions that we are a church of a beautiful liturgy and gorgeous church buildings but that our life is not centered upon things but upon loving the poor, the outcast, and the downtrodden?"  (Emphasis is my own.)

4) Again quoting, "How do we prioritize lifting up others? How do we DO it?  How do we SHOW it to others?"

In my reaction to all of this, one area in which I failed was prayer - prayer for the rector and vestry that they will recognize the perception of what they have chosen to do. Prayer for those who were removed from the vestry, or chose to leave, rather than face this future that has been set for Trinity. Prayer for the congregation which, as I know from my own experience, can be torn apart by decisions such as these.  But most importantly, prayer for those in the community - those whom the church may be supporting already, and those who may not receive support because of other financial obligations.

Yes, prayer for all of these - and prayer for discernment: discernment of who we are as a church right now; discernment of who we are as God's chosen; and discernment of how we put worldly considerations aside and choose God and what God would have us do.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Musings on Gifts and Grace

Today's adult forum at church provided an opportunity for us to delve into the subject of grace and the receiving of gifts - how would one respond when given a gift?

Response number one: "Thank you."

Response number two:  Take the gift and pay it forward, "re-gifting" it to someone else.

The question that I didn't ask was to bring up a third option, from the perspective of a person who doesn't recognize that grace is given freely by God - "What did I do to deserve this?"

And there's the subject of the old saying, "There but for the grace of God go I."  Our rector said the simpler, more accurate thing to say is, "There go I."  In the first, there is a thread of judgmentalism - if I didn't have God's grace, look at the mistakes I'd be making, like that guy over there.  In the second, there is the recognition that we do make mistakes, just like that guy over there.

But isn't there a third way to look at this?  By changing two words, couldn't we completely change the direction of the comment?  "There, BECAUSE OF the grace of God, go I."  This would be an acknowledgment of the gift we've been given, and a sign to us that this grace is leading us in a new direction - giving us a new hope, a new purpose, a new sense of the immensity of God's gift to us and perhaps even the recognition that, instead of recognizing the grace we've been given and saying "I'm glad I'm not him," we take that grace and give it as a gift to someone else.

Someone who will say, "Thank you."

Someone who will take that gift and pass it along to someone else.

And yes, even someone who might even question, "What did I do to deserve this?"

Monday, December 17, 2012

Does an Evil Act Negate the Gift of Being God's Beloved?

Can someone born a beloved son or daughter of God lose that beloved-ness?  Or is it a gift that remains, regardless of how that person lives their life?

In a talk delivered many years ago at the Crystal Cathedral, Henri Nouwen addressed the beloved-ness that we all, as sons and daughters of God, share – and how our very nature and being reflects the four main parts of the Eucharist.  As with the bread, we, too, are taken, blessed, broken, and given.  It is something that links us all and brings us closer to the experience of God on earth as Jesus.  As Nouwen said, "Your spiritual life - your life as the beloved daughters and sons of God - is a life that is taken, that is blessed, that is broken, and given ... If you can live your life as the taken, the blessed, the broken, the given, the world will recognize Jesus in you.”

Over the past several days, I’ve been struggling with the question of whether a person who commits an evil act still retains the designation of “beloved”.  Their life has the same four elements of being taken, blessed, broken, and given – but to me, it seems the aspect of a beloved nature ends somewhere between blessed and broken.  Just as bread is broken apart during the Eucharist, just as the life of Christ was broken through his crucifixion, the life of a person who commits an act of evil is also broken – but not broken as a sacrifice.  It is broken through hatred, or confusion, or mental disability, or any of a number of other reasons.

Our parish rector, yesterday during a discussion of the events in Connecticut last week, made the point that God doesn’t select one person to receive something good while another receives misery and hardship.  As he put it, “It rains on farms owned by good people just as much as on farms owned by bad people.”

Using this, then, a beloved nature is something that is “rained” upon everyone.  We all receive it, the same as we all receive God’s grace.  But by turning our back on grace – on God’s gift to us – and rejecting our status as beloved children, do we lose it?  Despite weeping over the sins of man, does God still look at all as beloved?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Many Missing the Mark on General Convention

Ah, if only it were so easy for all of us to wave our hands dismissively at nearly two million people as it apparently is for Jay Akasie, the ironically named David Virtue, and Rob Kirby. To read their reporting on the just concluded 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, you would think that everyone who stands steadfastly with that denomination - as I do - is going straight to hell.

How dare we consider restructuring the hierarchy to make it a more grassroots-driven denomination!

How dare we develop a budget that focuses on strengthening our capability for effective mission in the world!

How dare we pass a resolution authorizing the development of a provisional rite of blessing for same-sex unions!

How dare we ... LOVE?

Yes, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, the point you have missed throughout all of this is that we are a denomination of love. While you have gone in and selectively focused on the crozier carried by the Presiding Bishop, on whether to sell the church headquarters building in New York, and even on your continuing vitriolic (and horribly uninformed, Mr. Kirby) attacks on Bishop Gene Robinson, you have in your mad, blind rush missed the entire point.

Everything - EVERYTHING - accomplished by our deputies and bishops in Indianapolis has been done out of a sense of God's abiding love for everyone (yes, even you, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, your best efforts to display your true lack of understanding of who we are and what we stand for to the contrary).

Why pass a resolution authorizing this new rite? Because the Episcopal Church - as Mr. Akasie, a professed member of the denomination, should know very well - has a sign hanging by the door saying "All Are Welcome".  Why would the church not take an action to live into our advertising? For that matter, why do we allow women to serve as priests and bishops? (Thank God that we do!) Why did our church both walking with Dr. King and supporting the Civil Rights Movement?  (Mr. Akasie, Mr. VIrtue, and Mr. Kirby - any of you ever heard of Jonathan Myrick Daniels?)

Because we Episcopalians love - we accept - we welcome.

Christ's love is unconditional - he loved because he IS love - and it never misses the mark. The love of the Episcopal Church is unconditional, and it never misses the mark.

Sadly, the absence of love - even the word itself - in some of what we're reading is full of conditions and misses the mark completely.

So, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, Mr. Kirby, and others of your ilk - please stop reading everything with a hand over one eye. Stop finding what you want to see instead of looking for what's really there. And remember that, disagree with the Episcopal Church or not, disagree with our actions or not, you're missing the point.

It's not dollars and cents. It's not resolutions and budgets. It's not walkouts or sell-offs.

It's love.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk Through the Door, for the Episcopal Church Welcomes YOU!

Two events this week at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis have made me reflect on the famous logo found hanging at every Episcopal parish in the United States.

I have always been proud of the fact that the sign proclaims boldly and clearly that the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU - no asterisks, no exceptions, no conditions.  What has been disconcerting to me is the fact that our denomination has not always fully lived into the message we post on the sign - "It says I'm welcome, but do they mean ME?"  "I'm a poor black woman; do they mean ME?"  "I'm a gay partnered man; can they really mean ME?"  For every class, ethnicity, lifestyle or income level, I'm sure that someone, somewhere has asked, "Does the Episcopal Church really want ME? Will they accept ME?  Will they allow ME to be part of their family and feel the love and compassion that I need?"

In short, yes, we will!

Yesterday and today, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies - by wide margins - each approved a resolution allowing for the creation of a liturgy for blessing same-sax couples.  There are many things this is not: it is not a marriage ceremony; it is not mandatory; it is not something that every bishop will allow in their own dioceses, based on their own beliefs.  But it is a move farther along the path than the church has taken up until now.  And it is one more step down the road for the LGBT community who wants nothing more from their fellow Episcopal parishioners than the same love, acceptance and blessings they have already received from God.

This is a big switch for the Episcopal Church, and as such it makes me view the sign with a slightly different logo - The Episcopal Church Welcomes Change.  With this convention, it's not just change in liturgy; we are headed down the path for wholesale change in structure.  Earlier today, in a overwhelming and - according to friends of mine who are in attendance at the convention - emotional vote, the House of Deputies voted unanimously (that's a unanimous vote by more than 800 clergy and lay deputies!!) to approve Resolution C095.

What is Resolution C095?  According to the Episcopal News Service, "Resolution C095, Substitute, was adopted unanimously by the committee during its July 9 morning meeting. It grounds its action in the belief that 'the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself.'  It creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration."  Should the House of Bishops also approve the resolution, the report of recommendations will be completed this November and will be discussed and debated at the 78th General Convention in a few years.

What will these changes entail?  No one knows - the Spirit is just now beginning to move.  Over the past several days, I've read reports of requests for the church to sell the Episcopal Church headquarters building in New York and use the excess money for mission.  I've seen reports on a move to allow (require?) future presiding bishops to maintain their duties as diocesan bishops while leading the national church.

Whatever the future looks like - a changing hierarchy, an altered structure, a more grassroots level of leadership - the church will focus on mission, even more than it does today.  As the Presiding Bishop said in her opening sermon, "Re-forming and re-imagining ourselves for mission in a changed world is the most essential task we have before us.  We’re not going to fix the church or the world at this Convention, but we can do something to make the church a better tool and instrument for God’s mission if we can embrace that new wind, discover God creating new life among us, and listen and look for Jesus."

Listen and look for Jesus.  With all due respect to Bishop Katharine, I think that last phrase should have a bit of different emphasis.  Re-read it this way:  "Listen ... and look for Jesus."  With the events of the past several days, we're witnessing an Episcopal Church that is listening - listening to those who have been neglected or rejected or ignored and working to bring them through the front door.  And when you change the way you relate to others, change the way you see others, and change the way they see themselves, you open yourself to the face of Christ.

And it is that Christ who is standing in the door of the Episcopal Church, welcoming all, comforting all, refreshing all.  Yes - the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Falls Church Episcopal: A Full Church Remembers the Empty Tomb

Walking through the doors of the Historic Falls Church this morning - our congregation's first day of worship on that property in more than five years - I had no idea what to expect.

Plans were in place for a large turnout, and we even had an option available if we were confronted by someone with a gripe against us and the Episcopal Church and who chose our service as the time to make a vocal statement of opposition. The signage was in place, the nursery was staffed and stocked with activities, and the police officer tasked with getting people safely across the street was stationed on East Fairfax Street.

Everything was ready, and yet I still didn't know what to expect. Truth be told, the whole situation felt a bit surreal. Amy, the girls and I were part of the nearly 80 percent of our congregation who joined TFCE after the 2007 split, and we were all returning "home" to a place we had never attended. Some I spoke with likened it to being tourists who had just been dropped off by our bus and were waiting to enter a historic site to take some pictures and enjoy a tour.

As I stood on the lawn of the church, snapping photos of fellow parishioners and enjoying the spirit of excitement, enthusiasm and joy flowing between and among those who were arriving, I kept hearkening back to some of what's happened in the past. The misconceptions and untruths being circulated about TFCE, from everything ranging from our financial viability to the size of our congregation. Comments from those like Mike McManus who, as recently as three days ago in Virtue Online, claimed that the Episcopal Church is prohibiting the Anglican congregation from the free exercise of religion and who opined, "Shortly after Easter, our 3,000 members must abandon the facility, valued at $10+ million, turn over vestments, prayer books and even our bank account to less than 100 people who remained loyal to TEC. We will have to worship in a high school. This is wrong."

I have been in the communications field long enough - and am enough of a history buff - to recognize and freely acknowledge that all media is slanted, all opinions are designed to favor one group over another, and that all history is written by the winners. As such, nothing that has been said surprises me, no matter how much it pains and disappoints me. And as surprising as this may be to some, I agree with Mr. McManus: this is wrong.

Yes, Mr. McManus, it is wrong - wrong that in the midst of a five-year legal battle, the rumors that continue to be perpetuated and the stories being spread have overshadowed why we are ALL here, are ALL Christians, and are ALL gathering this Easter Sunday: the empty tomb. Easter Sunday should be about the celebration of Christ's resurrection and about the event that makes us who we are as God's people, providing us with the salvation and redemption that God gives freely as the result of the death of His son. Easter Sunday should be about Jesus' triumph over death and the cross.

For me, this Easter Sunday WAS and IS about that, despite what others may say. Plenty of people are anxious - in the words of the Gospel writers - to tear down the Temple, but are reluctant to build it back up. If the last five years have led me to reflect on anything, it is John 11:35.

"Jesus wept."

Yes, the last five years have made Jesus weep. Not for the loss of property or finances or leaving one denomination and aligning with another. Jesus has wept because of the way his children have acted. Jesus has wept because of the hateful words that have been spoken. Jesus has wept because of the way people who were once friends have turned their backs on one another.

All of this was weighing on my mind before this morning's service. But if Jesus wept over the past five years, today He was smiling - and we at TFCE were smiling as nearly 400 people packed the pews ("filled to overflowing", as reported by the Falls Church News Press). Apprehension melted away as nearly 400 voices were raised in unison with the first notes of the processional hymn. Concern about what may happen was replaced by the joy of seeing so many smiling, joyful people. Fear faded as Holy Baptism was held for the newest member of the Christian family. And the tears of the past several years - the tears of hurt and frustration - were replaced by tears of joy as families and friends, young and old alike, were led into the church by 98-year-old Jessie Thackrey, our matriarch and a woman who, despite her frailty, was determined to walk - rather than take her wheelchair - up the front steps and through the narthex door.

And at the end of the day, the real meaning of Easter was as clear and evident as ever.

The tomb is empty.

Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen indeed.

Hallelujah!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Brief Reflections on Christopher Hitchens

The very first time I saw a photograph of Christopher Hitchens - one of many where he held a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey in the other - I thought to myself that here was a man who didn't want to see or be bothered by anyone.

Hitchens was a fantastic writer, articulate, insightful and - more often than not - spot on in his arguments. Each book and article was a gift, and I knew that I was going to be smarter - whether I agreed or not - after having read them. As time passed, the image of the gruff contrarian I had built up in my mind no longer matched the words on the page.

A few years ago, I thought I was on the receiving end of this perceived gruffness. I wrote a letter to Hitchens, asking whether - in lieu of my sending copies of all of his books to him for signing - he would consent to send me several signed bookplates to put in each. Month after month passed without the slightest hint of a response, and I had visions of my letter surfacing in the in-box on his desk and then being tossed aside with a scowl, an exclamation of "Bloody hell!", and the general response that any unwanted bill or letter would get. And then, one day, an envelope appeared; Hitchens had apparently tired of my letter continuing to circulate through his correspondence, thought "I'm putting an end to this NOW!", and sent off a reply. There was no note, no "thanks for writing", nothing - just a half-dozen strips of paper which he had apparently torn from a piece of Xerox paper, scrawled his signature on, and then shoved them in the envelope.

I grinned at the thought of him muttering "That takes care of THAT!" as he dropped the mail in the post.

In June 2010, in conjunction with the book tour surrounding the release of his autobiography, Hitch 22, Hitchens came to Politics and Prose here in Washington. I, of course, was determined not to miss it, expecting to see the grumpy, "leave me alone!" contrarian who didn't really want to be there, but had to if he wanted to sell some books.

However, I quickly discovered something that many people have discovered over the years. Christopher Hitchens, the man who always struck me as not wanting to be bothered with anything, who wanted to be left alone with his computer, his cigarettes, and his liquor, was in fact a charming, engaging, and interested man. During the Q&A session there were those in attendance who knew in their heart of hearts - mistakenly, of course - that they could best him in an intellectual duel. There were the requisite questions about his support for the war in Iraq and his atheism, all of which he answered with great wit and great skill - triumphant in yet more debates. If memory serves, one person who had lost the "Hitchens intellectual challenge" immediately left the shop; even if my memory is flawed, it's still a wonderfully hilarious picture to have in mind.

I met him later, during the signing, and he was absolutely fascinating - one of those rare people who, even in the 2 or 3 minutes you have with them, seems genuinely interested in what you're saying. There were flashes of his wit, a few laughs, and a look of pleasant surprise when I mentioned the name of a mutual acquaintance. It was a wonderful time, one which I really enjoyed - and while pictures weren't allowed, the lady in front of me in line was kind enough to sneak this one for me. Naturally, it didn't catch the laughter or conversation; instead, he's looking at me like - yes - he can't be bothered.

And now he is gone, claimed by the cancer which he had been fighting valiantly for some time. My sister wondered aloud this morning if Hitchens had perhaps now found what he had been looking for - an answer to the debate he had engaged in, with great spirit, for many years: whether the God whose existence he had denied would greet him at the gate.

I don't know how to answer that - but if I had to guess, he probably can't be bothered with it now, anyway...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Your Role in the Nativity: Shepherd, King - or Innkeeper?

Assume for a moment that you have been transported back two millenia and find yourself in Bethlehem (or Nazareth, depending on which of the scholars you take as more reliable) the night of Christ's birth. Now that you are there, let's say that you have the opportunity to be any of the secondary characters involved in the event (aside from Mary, Joseph or the child).

Who would you be?

Instinctively, I think most people would want to assume the role of one of the shepherds or visitors from the East who have come to praise the child and bring gifts. After all, don't we always want to be someone cast in the best possible light, one who adds something rather than one who impedes, one who assists rather than one who ignores?

But in reality, deep down, aren't many of us - for good or bad, by choice or by impulse - more like the innkeeper? Someone who takes the easy way out and gives less than they could, if anything at all, to help someone in need? Isn't it really someone else's problem? And aren't the distractions in our own lives enough to worry about without having to help another through his or her own difficulties?

Somewhere I heard or read (alas, I can't recall) that the innkeeper was a decent person who legitimately had nothing and did all he could to help - and perhaps felt guilt that he couldn't do more. If true, that would be wonderful - but somehow, no matter how many times I read and hear the Nativity story, the more the pessimistic view of the presumed "host" is the one that tends to win out.

Several years ago, I wrote a post on the cynicism I still tend to feel when approached by people on the street - and how I should work harder to recognize the face of Christ in everyone. Depending on how you look at it, that same cynicism could have been found in the innkeeper - someone who looked with a very wary eye upon the pregnant teenage girl and the disheveled, tired man leading her on a donkey through the darkened streets of the town.

"May we have a room?" - "Do you have a dollar so that I can get something to eat?" In both instances, his answer - and, invariably, mine - are "I have nothing."

In his collection of essays entitled Secrets in the Dark, Frederick Buechner writes of the innkeeper this way:

"'Do you know what it is like to run an inn - to run a business, a family, to run anything in this world for that matter, even your own life? It is like being lost in a forest of a million tress,' said the Innkeeper, 'and each tree is a thing to be done. Is there fresh linen on all the beds? Did the children put on their coats before they went out? Has the letter been written, the book read? Is there money enough left in the bank? Today we have food in our bellies and clothes on our backs, but what can we do to make sure that we will have them still tomorrow? A million trees. A million things.

"'Until finally we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into a thing. The sparrow lying in the dust at your feet - just a thing to be kicked out of the way, not the mystery of death. The calling of children outside your window - just a distraction, an irrelevance, not life, not the wildest miracle ofthem all. The whispering in the air that comes sudden and soft from nowhere - only the wind, the wind...'"

Examine the way you help others - not through an intermediary organization, or by sending a check to nameless, faceless person, but when confronted face to face by someone in need. Will you be a shepherd and do what you can by simply offering praises for the person for who they are? Will you be as the visitors from the East, who brought gifts of enormous value and gave them freely? Or will you be like the innkeeper, who says "I have nothing here; go over there?"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What Pushes a Man from Activism to Revolution?

What is it that moves a man from activist to violent revolutionary? Where is the very fine line between the two located, and what pushes people to - and over - that line?

I kept thinking about these this weekend as I watched a series of films on Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and Che Guevara. The questions seemed particularly relevant as I was watching "Motorcycle Diaries", the story of Guevara's 1952 journey across South America with his friend Alberto Granado, based on both Guevara's journals and a book written by Granado. During the course of their journey - especially in Peru where, following the breakdown of their motorcyle, they were forced to accept rides in trucks - they came in direct contact with a significant number of people who, regardless of their country, were subjected to extreme poverty.

A husband and wife who left their children with trusted friends so that they could travel to find work in the mines. A Peruvian farmer who banded together with other farmers to help each other with their crops and plowing, and who was also forced to move in order to earn money to send his children to school. A hospital devoted to the care of those suffering from leprosy, but which was split in half by the Amazon River - patients on one side, staff on the other. Indigenous people who, as Guevara noted, were refugees in their own country.

All of this changed Che, and he became intensely interested in helping to change a system were people were faced with injustice every day and where (and I cannot recall where I read this) tomorrow is the only horizon these people can see. But what happened? How did he go from a physician and someone who was devoted to helping people overcome the obstacles in their lives to one of the leaders of a nation which executed thousands of political opponents - many at his own direction?

This, of course, brings me back to my original question: what pushes a man over that line, from activist to revolutionary, doctor to murderer? Guevara's life is already an enigma - a saint to some, a terror to others. Two sides to the same coin, perhaps - hero and villain? His entire life seems divided by that fine, but very visible line - but what forces moved him, and many others throughout history, across that divide?