“Charity is no substitute for Justice” — Tzedakah / Tzedek

This morning I visited, “This is Hunger,” a traveling exhibit created by Mazon, a national Jewish organization addressing issues of food insecurity and justice in the USA. Locally, this exhibit is sponsored by Episcopal Community Services and Jewish Family Services. Temple Beth Shalom in Overland Park is the location of this traveling exhibit. It will be there until July 13. There is more information on our St. Paul’s Facebook page  ( https://www.facebook.com/StPaulsKCMO/ ) about this exhibit and how to get tickets (free), which are required. Please don’t miss this amazing and well designed experience. 

It is the “experience” I want to reflect upon here.  Entering the truck, the group encountered a long table with chairs, really a long dinner table, set up in the middle of the truck. Plates, created by projected lights, marked each “place setting.” We were invited to be seated and to introduce ourselves to those around us. I would estimate there were about 24 of us. After a few moments, the room darkened and only our “plates” remained illuminated. Then one by one the plates disappeared. After a few moments of silence around the darkened table, people, projected on screens at each end of the table, began to “join” us and share their stories of hunger. Young and old, working and retired, healthy and sick, long employed and chronically unemployed . . . each spoke of the difficulties, disappointments, and discouraging realities of their struggle with food insecurity and hunger.  Their stories were honest, compelling, and disheartening. There are embarrassing statistics, embarrassing for our country, attached to all of these stories. But it is the humanizing of these statistics as we heard each story that was so powerful in impact. The video presentation ended with two walls of photos of faces and summaries of the statistics of hunger in the USA. Following this multimedia presentation, a spokesperson for Mazon concluded with this challenging observation—“The challenges of food insecurity are severe in our country and food charity (e.g. soup kitchens, food pantries, etc) cannot fix them. Public policy actions are essential to respond to the challenges of food insecurity and hunger in our country.”

“Food charity.” Our churches have long and arguably successful records in the area of food charity. Food pantries, soup kitchens, neighborhood gardens, and other similar programs represent models familiar to church activism across the country. These food ministries are essential given the increasing costs of food and reduction of public programs of food support available to hungry people. Yet the observation by Mazon of public policy changes needed to respond to the huge dimensions of food insecurity and hunger compels the faith community to re-imagine its limited reactive role and challenges it to a more pro-active role addressing matters of public policy.

It is suggested St. Augustine of Hippo, the great 4th-5th century theologian of the nascent Christian movement, once wrote, “Charity is no substitute for justice.” Surely, in matters of food insecurity and hunger, this observation challenges us to ponder our moral obligation to not only feed hungry people (charity) but our equally important moral and faith obligation to active, public advocacy for more equitable public policy for the food insecure and hungry (justice).  Such  advocacy would seek food/economic independence for many of those currently struggling with food insecurity and hunger. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah. The word tzedakah shares an etymological root with tzedek which means justice. Linguistically, this connection suggests charity must be built on a foundation of justice. In the absence of such a foundation, I believe the religious community must be faithful in working to build such a foundation, seeking diligently to create a more just society. Indeed, we should be “doing justice” (Micah 6.8) with the same zeal and energy we expend in our efforts to provide for the acute and immediate challenges of feeding hunger people in our soup kitchens and food pantries.

This is Hunger Video 

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The Crumpled

eastern tigerThis week I found a newly “hatched” Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in the garden.  It was working mightily to unfold its newly liberated wings.  I am not sure, but it is possible there was some defect in one wing as it seemed to be excessively crumpled.  The butterfly was struggling to hold on to a leaf while, at the same time, get that one wing to deploy for its intended purpose.  I watched for a few minutes.  It seemed not to be going well.  I wondered how things would work out.  While otherwise robust and healthy appearing, one crumpled wing may be this butterfly’s undoing.  I watched for a while longer and then walked away.  I left the butterfly to its struggle for life on its own.
All around me, crumpled lives are struggling to find a chance in our culture and society to unfold successfully.  Unlike the butterfly in my garden, my faith does not allow me to walk away.  Too often the people I observe are not crumpled by their own doing.  Too often they are crumpled by systemic forces determined to prevent success.  Too often they are crumpled by malevolent powers that purposely seek to prevent success.  Too often they are crumpled by injustices allowed, intentionally or unintentionally, to proliferate in our culture and society, preventing success.  Too often they are crumpled by the denial of access to the resources needed to promote success.  The story of our faith does not offer the option to walk away from the crumpled.  Indeed, as crumpled people ourselves, saved/served by the unmerited grace of God, we are challenged to serve those whose lives are crumpled.
Truly Lord, when did I serve you?  
When you served the crumpled you served me.
What is it God expects of us?  To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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Freedom (see red link below)

It has been an odd few days in time for this pilgrim.
One day this week I was reading a speech given by Congressman Joe Kennedy at “The Summit,” the annual gathering called by Sojourners magazine of faith and justice leaders in our country.  It was a magnificent speech reminding the faith community that it is our lifes’ vocations to pursue justice for all, especially the marginalized and forgotten, the poor and hungry, the persecuted and lost.  In the midst of this, he offered a quote from Augustine of Hippo, the great 4th Century theologian who contributes greatly to the identity of Western Christianity, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”  These words ring true, but for the life of me I could not find validation that they are actually words of Augustine (I chase more rabbits trying to find primary sources of important quotes).  In my searching, I came across another quote attributed to Augustine but equally untraceable, “Hope has two beautiful daughters and their names are Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”  I very much appreciate both of these quotes and will continue to seek their origins.  Still, I will attribute them to Augustine, with qualification, as many have, and will use them to challenge us to the baptismal living to which we are called and the life vocations Congressman Kennedy suggests.
I also remembered this week we are remembering the 100th anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Europe to aid the allies in the Great War.  I am reminded of the reality of this war (WW1) every time I walk through the blue hall at St. Paul’s and see the memorial plaque on the wall with the names of 99 parishioners who served, including four who died and six women, in the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.  The inscription on the plaque reads, “For His name’s sake they went forward that peace and happiness, truth and justice might be established among all nations.”   The peculiarities of wars’ causes, the casus belli, perplex me.  And, though the aforementioned Augustine provided a solution to a war approved by Christianity–that is “just war” ( jus bellum justum ), I remained unconvinced as a person of faith and moral agency that I will ever understand war as other than tragic and reflective of our unwillingness to seek fully God’s vision of the Kingdom. Consequently, for me, war is forever a sign of our obdurate hearts and implacable moral blindness.  However, I do not imagine the soldier bears the burden of these stains on human history.  Rather, in almost every instance, it is that small cabal of powerful and privileged, considering only minimally the human consequences of war, who bear the responsibility, instead seeking more privilege and power to feed their insatiable appetites for both.  Thus, I lament the human pains and sorrows inflicted by war as well as its insult to the human spirit.  It is here I embrace Hope’s two daughters and pledge to never disavow my obligation to stand for the common person, the common soldier, our common humanity, and resist war in every instance.
I was disheartened this week by an advertisement published by the NRA.  There is no explanation for their intent or purpose in this ad other than to incite violence and hate toward Americans who dare to disagree with them.  The venom with which this ad creates a ubiquitous “enemy” to those who are the NRA is frightening and contrary to everything America represents since Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, an American patriot, suggested e pluribus unum ( out of many, one) be the motto on the seal for the Colonial Congress in 1776.  The advertisement ends with an ominous warning, “The only way we stop this (referring to fake news, protest, and civil disobedience), the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.”  The ad is being denounced by progressives and conservatives alike as a thinly veiled call to arms and violence.  I was once an active member of the NRA.  I valued its lessons on gun safety, hunting, and wildlife conservation.  No longer.  It is now a vicious and destructive organization that serves no socially redeeming purpose in modern civilization.  While we, the faithful, are called to seek justice, mercy, redemption, reconciliation, and peace, this group is calling its members to prepare for violence and war.
Finally,  last night I attended a rally for the fight for a living wage in Kansas City.  Many parts of the rally were moving, but the highlight was a song sung by a small group of singers.  The song, Freedom,” (click to music) was so filled with hopefulness and joy!  My video can only convey a small part of how beautiful this moment was for me.  August 8, you will have your chance to express your opinion about a living wage in Kansas City.  I hope you consider your vote prayerfully.
So, the journey of the week was a roller-coaster, filled with joys and sorrows.  Still, God was with me all along the way; for that, I am always thankful.

 

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Mr. Jefferson on fiction

 

Summer is always a time for alterations in normal habits.  A habit of mine is to read non-fiction.  However, while reading recently of the origins of human rights as a new discovery of the 18th century ( “Inventing Human Rights: A History” by Dr. Lynn Hunt), I happened upon an observation by Thomas Jefferson regarding fiction.  When asked to offer suggestions for books to include in a personal library, he included the following observations about fiction (the spellings are original):
“. . . but wherein is its utility asks the reverend sage, big with the notion that nothing can be useful but the learned lumber of Greek and Roman reading with which his head is stored?  I answer, everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with it’s deformity, and conceive an abhorence of vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise. But exercise produces habit, and in the instance of which we speak the exercise being of the moral feelings produces a habit of thinking and acting virtuously. We never reflect whether the story we read be truth or fiction. If the painting be lively, and a tolerable picture of nature, we are thrown into a reverie, from which if we awaken it is the fault of the writer. I appeal to every reader of feeling and sentiment whether the fictitious murther of Duncan by Macbeth in Shakespeare does not excite in him as great a horror of villany, as the real one of Henry IV. by Ravaillac as related by Davila? And whether the fidelity of Nelson and generosity of Blandford in Marmontel do not dilate his breast and elevate his sentiments as much as any similar incident which real history can furnish? Does he not in fact feel himself a better man while reading them, and privately covenant to copy the fair example? We neither know nor care whether Lawrence Sterne really went to France, whether he was there accosted by the Franciscan, at first rebuked him unkindly, and then gave him a peace offering: or whether the whole be not fiction. In either case we equally are sorrowful at the rebuke, and secretly resolve we will never do so: we are pleased with the subsequent atonement, and view with emulation a soul candidly acknowleging it’s fault and making a just reparation. Considering history as a moral exercise, her lessons would be too infrequent if confined to real life. Of those recorded by historians few incidents have been attended with such circumstances as to excite in any high degree this sympathetic emotion of virtue. We are therefore wisely framed to be as warmly interested for a fictitious as for a real personage. The field of imagination is thus laid open to our use and lessons may be formed to illustrate and carry home to the heart every moral rule of life. Thus a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity that ever were written. This is my idea of well written Romance, of Tragedy, Comedy and Epic poetry . . .”.
Given Mr. Jefferson’s affirmations, perhaps I should put down the “dry volumes of ethics, and divinity,” and pick up some engaging fiction.  Any suggestions?

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The Melting Pot: a Failed Metaphor

“. . .The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State. No religious Establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mahommedan, if he will come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the Constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so please him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institution. The fruits are visible in the universal contentment which everywhere prevails. Christians are broken up into various sects, but we have no persecution, no stake or rack—no compulsion or force, not furious or bigoted zeal; but each and all move on in their select sphere, and worship the Great Creator according to their own forms and ceremonies. The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid . . . and the Aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it . . . .”

President John Tyler
July 10, 1843 (1)

American cultural anthropology and sociology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries present some interesting challenges to the matter of religious, ethnic, racial, and cultural immigration into the landscape of the American experiment in liberty. The competing theories of Henry Platt Fairchild (2) (popularly described as Melting Pot borrowed from Fredrick Turner who applied his idea uniquely to the American west in the late 19th century) and Horace M. Kallen (3) (popularly described as ‘Cultural Symphony’) did battle in the early 20th century. Fairchild, primarily in his book Immigration, argued for the complete assimilation of the newcomer into the ‘native American’ ideal (by which he meant the idealized American/European). Whatever differences (i.e. cultural, morphological, religious, etc) the immigrant brought to America must be assimilated into the homogeneous cultural identity of what Fairchild thought to be a ‘national type’ as quickly as possible. Fairchild’s work was popularized in a 1908 play ‘The Melting Pot’ by Israel Zangwill. The theme of the play can be captured in a single line from the play “Understand that America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your fifty groups, your fifty languages, and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American.” (4 & 5). Fairchild’s melting pot was reoriented by Edward Ross (‘The Old World in the New,’ 1914), a ‘progressive’ university sociologist of his day. Ross challenged and rejected the notion of non-European immigration. According to him, non-Europeans were “sub-common people of obviously low mentality who really belonged in animal skins, beside wattled huts . . . Ross was appalled by their ‘sugar-loaf heads, moon-faces, slit mouths, lantern jaws, and goose-bill noses.’ Jews he singled out as puny and sissified, the saddest possible contrast to the type of the American pioneer.” (6)

Rejecting Ross’s extension of Fairchild’s work, Horace M. Kallen, a former colleague of Ross’s at the University of Wisconsin and later on faculty at Harvard University, published an essay in the Nation (February 1915) titled ‘Democracy versus the Melting Pot.’(7)  Kallen gave his thesis the name ‘Cultural Pluralism.’ His basic theory is composed of three essential parts: 1) he denied there was any unique, archetypal American; there was no collective identity into which immigrants must seek transformation. America, in his theory, was a political state containing a great diversity of distinct nationalities, religious, cultural traditions, ethnicities, etc, 2) these distinct aspects of the human community should be allowed to perpetuate themselves indefinitely, 3) because of 1 & 2, governmental policy should be guided by two distinct concepts: unison and harmony. Unison would be limited to basic patterns of social/governmental/economic functions—e.g. language, government structure, monetary policy, etc as examples of unison policy. Of much greater interest to Kallen was harmony (which gave Kallen’s theory the popular name ‘Cultural Symphony Theory’). For him, this was the brilliance of the American experiment. In matters of opinion “Its form would be that of the federal republic; its substance a democracy of nationalities, cooperating voluntarily and autonomously through common institutions in the enterprise of self-realization through the perfections of men according to their kind . . . each nationality (religion, culture, etc) would have for its emotional and involuntary life its . . . own individual and inevitable esthetic forms . . . Thus, American civilization may come to mean the perfection of the cooperative harmonies . . . a multiplicity in a unity, an orchestration of mankind” (8). Kallen offers a brilliant understanding of the Founders’ imagination in using e pluribus unum as a national motto; holding of equal value both the many and the one.

As often happens in history, unforeseen circumstances influence outcomes. While we might imagine Kallen’s theory of a grand cultural symphony creating a rich and vibrant American culture capturing the imagination of the American people, circumstances in Europe and the world leading to World War I created an environment of social and political fear fostering an atmosphere of anxiety and xenophobia. (9) Fairchild’s Melting Pot augmented by Ross’s xenophobia became the prevailing metaphor and, sadly, the political context for immigration policy and American self-awareness in the ensuing decades.  Kallen’s Cultural Symphony almost completely disappeared by 1924. To this day, the Melting Pot is the collective mental paradigm for immigration and cultural assimilation into the America landscape. The inherent fear of and limitations to diversity contained in the Melting Pot theory, whether consciously or unconsciously engaged, continue to inhibit broad intercultural comfort, trust, or cooperation.

Sadly, resistance to the Melting Pot encourages suspicion and flames up xenophobic fears. The President’s poorly planned and executed executive order on refugees and immigrants, born of fear and xenophobia, affirms the operative persistence and power of this inadequate Melting Pot metaphor. In contrast, the immediate and powerful response of the citizenry suggests Kallen’s work, a Cultural Symphony, describing a fearless cultural symphony may be gaining traction in these United States even if the original theory for this paradigm shift is yet unrecognized.  Kallen’s Cultural Symphony encouraging and celebrating diversity, multiculturalism, and pluralism provides a context for serious reconsideration of immigration and refugees policies. But the hard work is not done. Progress will require an informed and well differentiated citizenry to constructively embrace, engage, and advocate for the opportunity to discover new harmonies possible in intercultural, interethnic, interracial, interfaith, etc., relations, collaboration, cooperation, and dialogue. The reward of this hard work will be, to borrow again from Tyler’s letter, a continuation of our great and noble experiment, the fruit of which will be an even more perfect union, an even grander Cultural Symphony.

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1 John Tyler. A letter from President John Tyler to Joseph Simpson of Baltimore. The American Jewish Historical Society, New York City, New York.
2 Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America [Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 50-51.
3 Ibid.
4 Gary Gerstle. American Crucible; Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century [Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 2001], 51.
5 C. Hirschman. America’s Melting Pot Policy Reconsidered, Annual Review of Sociology, 9 (1983), 397-423.
6 Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America, [Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992], 50-51.
7 Ibid., 50-52.
8 Ibid., 52.
9 Ibid., 53.

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