At the top of my "bucket list" for the last few years was my desire to meet Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, that will never happen. This towering figure long has been a model for me of courageous leadership, one who led by example. As former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, said so well, "His life was the triumph of the human spirit."
Thanksgiving means millions will travel to join families and friends and share memories as well as a delicious meal. This special time of year is also a desperate time for many whose financial reality does not allow for turkey dinners. After Congress cut food stamps by $36 each month, as well as other food assistance programs, families scramble to cover the loss and food banks run out of food. While many try not to overeat on Thanksgiving, many go hungry.
On Thanksgiving Day 1969, people around Kentucky woke up to a stunning headline: "Nine –year-old Bobby Ellis Starves to Death on Thanksgiving Eve." How could a young child starve to death in the world’s richest country? He was one of the "invisible poor." As families sat down for turkey and the trimmings, hearts were moved with sorrow and a desire that this not happen again.
How does one who lives in a world of constant distractions arrive at a life stance of compassion? This ever-present challenge is one that is daunting for most people. To be a contemplative walking the road to compassion in 21st century America is to embrace a counter-cultural stance. We live in a fast-paced, fast-lane, fast-food culture that holds multi-tasking in high esteem.
Our technological era has greatly improved the speed of communication, but not the quality of communication. Speaking to a live person on the phone has become a thing of the past, and we often pay financially to do so. We have become machine-oriented rather than people-oriented. Privacy fences separate neighbors. I'm grateful to still have - and do purposefully take advantage of - the opportunities to go into book stores and to check out with a live person in a grocery.
Thousands of concerned citizens from around the United States will travel to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for the School of the Americas demonstration, November 22-24, to call for its closing. In response to substantial numbers of opponents to the existence of the school, the U.S. government closed the doors in 2000; however, it reopened in 2001 with the name Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The response from the SOA Watch: "different name, same shame." In the shame spotlight are graduate-dictators notorious for their brutality and human-rights violations, including Argentina's Leopoldo Galtieri, Rios Montt of Guatemala, Raoul Condras of Haiti, and Roberto D'Aubuisson, who killed and tortured thousands during the civil war in El Salvador.
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or are forced to leave their home for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all, for being more. ~ Pope Francis
Headlines from the Associated Press on November 4 reported that a wooden boat with 70 refugees sank off the western coast of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. Only eight survivors were recovered from the boat, which had been carrying many women, children, and infants. History continues to repeat itself in this region because of sectarian violence during the last 18 months. Victims have been Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in a predominately Buddhist nation.
As an 8th grader, my classmates and I were given a trip through Kentucky’s "Holy Land" as a graduation gift, which included a visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani. As we approached the church, I noticed a sign on the grounds that read, "Warning: Women are not allowed beyond this point under pain of excommunication." While the boys in the class laughed, I was not amused. Today I regret having not crossed the line. Next, we went into the church and found that women were not allowed to sit in the back of the church on the ground floor; instead, we were escorted to the choir loft (read: "back of the bus"). This was my first life lesson in Sexism 101.
In looking at culture, religion or country, we can see that much sexism still exists. There has been progress and much more is needed.
Thousands of people around the United States are participating in National Youth Awareness Month activities. These events are designed to raise awareness around the issue of young people being tried, sentenced, and imprisoned in the adult criminal justice system. This awareness raising effort began six years ago when Tracy McClaud, a Missouri parent who lost her 16 year old son to suicide, decided to help other parents in similar situations. Her son was tried and prosecuted as an adult and later took his life while in prison.
According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, an estimated 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced and imprisoned as adults. During their incarceration many are victims of sexual abuse. Youth sentenced as adults receive an adult criminal record, are denied employment and educational opportunities. They can also be refused student financial aid.
Woe to those who enact unjust statutes and who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgment and robbing my people's poor of their rights, making widows their plunder and orphans their prey. Isaiah 10: 1-2
Is there life after a government shutdown …sequestration …severe budget cuts? For 98% of the population, these are reasonable questions to ask. As the country waits for a resolution, Congress could spend time reading the dialogue between Lazarus and Dives or one of the prophets discussing the plight of the poor.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Since 1987, when the observance began, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has worked tirelessly to keep this tragic reality in front of everyone with diverse activities that mourned those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrated those who have survived, and connected with those who work to end violence. That same year the first national toll-free hotline began. In 1989, critical Domestic Violence legislation was passed by Congress and has been reauthorized every year.
Every year in August, children in Japan and countries around the world create peace cranes and float them in streams and ponds. They recall that often children are the victims of war and the victims of chemical weapons. Syria is a horrific recent example.
According to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, the use of chemical weapons began with World War I when both sides involved in the conflict used poison gas, inflicting agonizing suffering - chlorine and mustard gas were used to inflict painful burns on the skin. The United States also used chemical weapons in World War II, and in the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was used. An estimated 500,000 babies were born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange, and according to the Red Cross, an estimated one million people have disabilities or health problems related to Agent Orange.