Friday, October 26, 2018

Remember the Centennial of Armistice Day, not the Glory of Nationalism

Eleven days until Election day. I urge you to vote (if you have not already). Also remember the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of Nov. 1918. This is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of WW I, the “War to End all Wars.” Now called Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada and other nations. French President Macron, hosting world leaders for the centennial, will have no celebration of national triumph. No tanks or missiles in the streets. 
In the U.S. we need peace for our press, freedom of the press--not bombs for them. We need no military at our borders; we need nuclear peace treaties. My father was a veteran of WW I. My uncle was gassed in that war. Remember that war did not end all wars. Nov. 6 is a time for voting. Nov. 11th is a Sunday, a day of Remembrance, not of the glory of nationalism, but of the Christ who died to end death and of Resurrection: for new together life for all.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Voting Matters. Every Single Person Matters

We voted yesterday! First day polls are open at our County Court House for absentee ballot voting. Our neighbors, new to Iowa, voted, too. It was a friendly, welcoming process. No voter I.D. required. All was in order, carefully done. Now we are free on November 6th to help others go to the polls! Democracy means that we all work to make sure everyone is able to vote!

Commentators wonder which way the final vote on the Supreme Court nomination will swing in the Mid-terms.  Will the Republicans be more fired up? Will the Democrats' determination to change things hold? We cannot know, of course. But I do know these things: We absolutely have to make sure that those people whom others want to keep away from voting are supported.  How many names are being erased? What can I do? Who needs an I.D.? What can I do?  Whose polling place has been changed without someone knowing about it? How can I let them know?

What can I do locally to make sure that information is correct and widely known?  Whom can I tell that their vote matters and that they matter? That they really matter? 

Friday, October 5, 2018

"No" to Gender Justice and So Many Other Rights . . . for Years to Come

With Senator Collins and Senator Manchin just announcing they will vote “yes” to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, I raise again the concerns of the National Council of Churches: (Below) Also today, after decades of work by women and men, the Lutheran Church of Australia again denied women the right to be ordained (2/3 vote needed; only 59.7% received). 
National Council of Churches Statement this week: “Kavanaugh’s political record is troubling with regard to issues of voting rights, racial and gender justice, health care, the rights of people with disabilities, and environmental protections.  This leads us to believe that he cannot be an impartial justice in cases that are sure to come before him at the Court.” October 5, 2018, a day full of clouds here.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Ordinary Days: Do We Have a National and International Emergency?

Each day was so ordinary. Burton and I were seminary graduate students, just a few weeks married, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962. We had books to read, papers to write, but the real question was whether Soviet Union nuclear weapons would fall on St. Louis or on any other part of the U.S.

I had the laundry sorted out to be washed on a Monday morning in the summer of 1967 when it became clear we would need to  leave Detroit by side streets because of shooting on the freeways as the Detroit Rebellion—called riots—were spreading. Fires spread further in 1968. Would the country survive?

I was writing while watching TV in New Haven, Ct. in 1973, as John Dean testified before Congress about Richard Nixon as the nation began to understand the President’s involvement in the Watergate break-in and the cover-up. How much more would we find out?

Our family was at a camp in New Hampshire summer 1974. Burton had a radio with him. People huddled around as we listened to the announcement that Richard Nixon had resigned. No U.S. president before had done this. We could not imagine what would happen to the nation.

September 11th 2001 was the first full week of the semester at Wartburg Seminary. Craig Nessan and I were teaching Church Administration and Mission class while planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City. We found out more as students and faculty walked toward chapel.

This Friday September 7, 2018, people are busy with ordinary things.  I am preparing for a presentation at my church next Wednesday evening: “Civility: Conversations as Christians in a Pluralistic World.” Earlier this week, after considering whether to prepare a hand-out, I told the Education Director that I thought not because I didn’t know what might unfold in the country during the coming days.  Well, things have unfolded: Committee hearings on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for associate justice of the Supreme Court; publication of Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear; a New York Times op ed on the test of the presidency.

The news media is focused on “who” wrote the op ed piece, the many denials of authorship, and the “volcanic” reaction of the president.

However, history would have us ask, “What comes next?”  Is this just more about an unpredictable president? Simply one more account, particularly Bob Woodward’s book, of a chaotic White House? Or is this an emergency within the nation and a truly international danger laid out clearly about a man with a preference for autocrats and dictators, a U.S. president who has singular authority to make nuclear decisions.

The president’s self-congratulations to the contrary, talk of impeachment and use of the 25th amendment grow. But these are not merely political questions. The question is a serious one about to whom this nation turns in an emergency? We now know about 1962, 1967 and 1968, 1973 and 1974, 2001. What about now?

Is it up to the “quiet resistance” of unelected but dutiful officials within the White House to contain this president? Are they—are we—depending upon Congress to act? Will this end up in the hands of the Supreme Court? And will this Court have a new associate justice who has argued that presidents should not be “distracted” by civil lawsuits and criminal investigations while in office?

The New York op ed piece ends quietly with us: “the real difference will be made by everyday citizens. . . . Americans.” So, what might we ordinary citizens on this ordinary day be prepared for? Be prepared to be? To do?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hero's Funeral in 2040?

     Hero’s funeral in 2040 ?
Guest blog by the Rev. Dr. Peter Kjeseth, 
    (Peter is Professor emeritus of Wartburg Theological Seminary, former colleague, dear friend, and justice advocate with a global perspective)

The week-long mega-funeral of Senator John McCain is still being analyzed and evaluated by our pundits and even by those of us who are not experts.  Noteworthy has been the value placed on the negative:
     Who was NOT invited, Trump and Palin, and what was NOT said about his heroism.

     In praising McCain’s courage in the Vietnam war, none of the elite speakers affirmed that he and his fellow warriors won the war for us.
     We lost that war.  Rather he was praised for refusing to be freed before his fellow prisoners of war.  The overriding theme of praise was for his unflinching and bipartisan support of “American values”.
     Fair enough – and deserved!

    But do we dare ask ourselves today who and what might be celebrated and praised -or condemned and rejected – in some hero’s funeral in, say, 2040?  What sort of heroes will emerge from US military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and even Yemen?

   Hard on the end of the McCain funeral, which won global headlines, we see the much less celebrated event of the retirement of General John Nicolson, long time head of US forces in Afghanistan.  His farewell message was unflinching: “It is time for the war in Afghanistan to end.”  This after our 17 years of serial redefinition of mission and total failure.  Will the military/industrial complex and the present Republican leadership seriously consider any real alternative to another round of redefinition and restarting of our “mission” in Afghanistan?  Good luck to incoming General Austin “Scott” Miller, who has already had to report and more-or-less justify a US soldier’s death.

   Even more morally problematic is our ‘proxy’ involvement in the devastating war in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia has now admitted that the August 9 airstrike in Yemen’s Saada Province that killed dozens of people including over 30 children riding a bus to a holiday event was a mistake.  Many voices across the world and in the UN name this event, and others like it, as war crimes.  Our military spokespersons tepidly explain that we ‘only’ provide inflight refueling of aircraft, intelligence help in defining a mission, training and other services.
   Lockheed Martin MK 82 bomb parts are clearly identified in Yemen.  If we dare look at it, there is ample evidence of our massive military supply to the perpetrators of the war in Yemen.

  When we look back on this day from the perspective of 2040, will there be anything heroic to celebrate?

  A question worth considering.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Misusing a Murder: Remember Mollie!

Blessed are they who mourn . . . . Blessed are the merciful . . . .
After University of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts’ body was found buried beneath cornstalks in an Iowa field, the Mexican national man who confessed to murdering her was said to be in the country illegally, working on a farm. An immigration detainer was placed on him. The company owning the farm at first said it had used the federal E-Verify to check on its employee.
         Some national statements turned immediately to the dangers of illegal Mexican aliens. A state leader asked how a broken immigration system could allow a predator to live in “our community.” A local announcer warned U. of Iowa students to be alert and fearful of “others” out there.
        However, Mollie’s aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, posted this: “Please remember, evil comes in EVERY color. Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends for all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Respect! Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, was a Gospel woman for generations of men and women. Cradled in her church in Detroit, she never left it, but rather carried it with her all over the world. She sang "Precious Lord" at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral 50 years ago in 1968. Her music and her dedication supported the civil rights movement right through to her singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. Amazing! "Respect" was her anthem. Amazing woman. Amazing Gospel Grace!
P.S. I googled the Queen of Soul singing "America" at President Obama's Inauguration.  Just to listen to her and to watch the crowd listening to her was wonderful.  To watch President Obama watch and listen to her and be inspired by her inspired me again.  Then I scrolled down briefly to see the comments.  This was all within a few hours of her death. They were all in gratitude.  Except one. What?  One by Donald J. Trump: "Gotta Thumbs down on this one."  I don't tweet things to or about Trump, but this time I did reply to his tweet. I wrote: "Thumbs down on America? Thumbs down on music? Thumbs down on Freedom? "Don't gotta!"
I know even more today how much we need Aretha, and Martin Luther King Jr., and President Obama.
I know how much we need the Gospel.  I know how much we need to sing.  All of us.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Egotistical, Uninformed, Confusing Words are a Danger to the World

This week we have seen and heard, and sometimes cried about Trump's outrageous words with Putin in Finland. We have no idea what he actually said behind closed doors.  Did he know the implications of what he was saying? He changed his tune and then changed it again and then again. Does he comprehend what he is saying beyond what he believes it means to his own ego?

But his words and policies and impulsive actions affect everyone of us and the entire world, if not also the course of history. We become depressed watching, but we cannot laugh it off.  We need to not fall into becoming obsessed with watching nor can we turn away.

My husband and I watched the video of former President Barack Obama's speech's given in South Africa this week.  It was an almost 1 1/2 hour lecture to 15,000 people in a stadium there. Not cute one-liners. No bragging. No crowd-pleasers. No hate speech. It was an intelligent talk about history, a magnificent account of Nelson's life on the 100th anniversary of his birth. It informed us about the changes in the world in the past century.  Obama knows about our country, South Africa and the entire world.  The people paid attention the entire time. You could tell they grasped everything he was saying. They were thoughtful and appreciative.

Actually, after the past 1 1/2 years of Trump's words (he only uses a very few over and over), I found myself forgetting that a presidential speech can be that intelligent and enlightening. I longed for the time when I couldn't wait to hear an Obama speech. I was so impressed by those 15,000 South Africans and how they listened and caught every nuance--such a contrast to the way Trump dismisses and denounces Africans. 

I put here the link so that you can be amazed, informed, refreshed, challenged and hopeful, too:

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Families Belong Together . . . In the Storm

Five minutes before the appointed 4:00 p.m. time, the rain stopped after huge thunderstorms and floods forced cancellation of the Families Belong Together event in Mason City, Iowa, part of the 750 protests nationwide Saturday, June 30. At 4:01 Burton and I decided spontaneously to drive to Central Park anyway. There we saw it: a bunch of people with signs held high: “Jesus was a Refugee.” “Reunite Families.” We didn’t know what else to do, but we wanted to be together, high water or not. 

We introduced ourselves to each other. Some women had driven in from Titonka, an hour to the West; a couple had driven up from Jewell, an hour to the South, being stopped on #Hwy 35 because of visibility. But they had persisted. The all day television coverage of tens of thousands was important. It might not have included us, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the country, but we were here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Wondered Why My Family Members Had Not Been Taken Away From Their Homes

As a child after WW II I remember our finding out that Japanese Americans had been taken away from their homes and placed in internment camps for “national security” reasons. Even then, young as I was, I wondered why my family--aunts and uncles--immigrants from Germany, had not been taken away from their homes.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Proclamation issued by the U.S. president September, 2017, placing entry restrictions on people from mostly Muslim majority countries that government department reviews concluded presented national security risks.

In 1944 the executive order to lock up Japanese Americans had been based on one general’s report who gave the reason that “racial characteristics” of Japanese Americans predisposed them to assist Japanese forces and that it was impossible to distinguish loyal and disloyal members of that racial group. The war department and navy intelligence disagreed, saying things should be handled on an individual basis and not on a racial basis.

Nevertheless, over 100, 000 Japanese Americans were locked up. Japanese Americans fought the legality of the executive order, particularly a Mr. Korematsu, all the way to the Supreme Court, but he lost the case in 1944. In 1982, forty years after that executive order had been issued, a lawyer found government documents in dusty boxes showing there was no military reason to show Japanese Americans were a national security threat. Mass detentions and persecutions based on ethnicity and “inability to assimilate” were false to the core. The lawyer found Mr. Korematsu. He went back to court. It took a long time, but in 2011, the Justice Department finally made a confession of error in regard to the Japanese Internment camps

Today, the third version of the Muslim ban, is carefully worded, to say there are national security concerns, no bias; this time no religious bias. Have we not learned? Today, the bias is not hidden in dusty boxes, but open in speeches and tweets. Nevertheless, it has been disregarded by the Supreme Court. Thus the First Amendment of the Constitution is disregarded.

As I child I noticed the discrepancy between the way Japanese Americans and German (and Italian) Americans were treated on the basis of the way they looked.  Today I am deeply concerned in the discrepancy between the way people are treated on the basis of what they believe.

Justice Sotomayer yesterday read the minority dissent out loud, citing the flawed 1944 Korematsu Supreme Court case. “The United States of America is built on the Promise of religious liberty,” she said. “The Establishment Clause guarantees religious neutrality.” She added,  “The Court’s decision today fails to safeguard that fundamental principle.” This third version has “morphed into a proclamation punitively based.” This new “window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact. . . the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by the impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers.” Sotomayer also said that the ban on Muslims entering the country now “masquerades behind a fa├žade of national security concerns.” The First Amendment “embodies our nation’s deep commitment to religious plurality and tolerance.”

Chief Justice Roberts renounced Justice Sotomayer for citing the 1944 erroneously decided case.  Before yesterday Korematsu’s individual conviction had been overturned and he had received an apology from the Justice Department but the ruling still technically stood. However yesterday Chief Justice Roberts issued a one-line sentence finally overruling the Korematsu Supreme Court ruling.

How ironic.  I would like to believe that today’s decisions could prevent us from repeating tragic mistakes from the past. Can the concentration camps of my childhood really be gone? What about the belief that some people cannot assimilate? Should they? And will we always try to keep out others based on race, religion, ethnicity? What else? Accept executive orders for national security reasons? Will we continue to disregard facts because of our fears?

Friday, June 22, 2018

In Christ We Have Strength for a Long Attention Span

I have been watching this nation’s outrage over separation of immigrant children from their parents. Individuals, mayors, lawyers, church leaders—even corporations--and more have spoken and acted forcefully. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services was interviewed on TV. In the midst of this administration’s cruelty and incompetency, I have been heartened that it is still possible in this democracy for people to force at least some seemingly temporary change in government policy. Freedom of the press still exists although there are so many more layers of secrecy to be uncovered.

So what now? President Trump this morning said that Republicans were “wasting their time” on immigration and should put it off until after the November elections. We are told some children have been reunited with their parents. “Oh, good,” we might say to ourselves. “That’s a relief. Things will soon be fine again.” Really?

Will we so easily move on? After all, we are known for having a fast news cycle and short attention span. Could we be tempted by Melania Trump’s strategically ambiguous jacket back message, “I really don’t care. Do U?”

The issues of immigration are just so complex. “Zero Tolerance” sounds so simple compared to deep compassion. “Believing the Bible” on “obeying the government” seems easier than walking with Jesus in the midst of all kinds of people in pain. But Jesus kept on walking.  He went from village to village, encountering needs, facing opposition, finally to arrest and the cross.

Then disciples were tempted to turn away, give up, get on with their own lives. But the faithful women who came to the tomb with no expectations of success over deathly actions, were shown that Jesus rose again.

So we walk on with Jesus, all the way. There are so many more complexities to come: reunification of thousands; the rise of the private prison industrial complex; refugee issues not just on our southern border, but globally; violence in Central America.  And what about gun violence in the United States? And those brave high school students who this Spring were challenging change: #NeverAgain?  And? And?

In Christ we have the strength for a long attention span.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 5 and 6 1968 and 2018: Hope in the Darkness

So many thoughts and feelings swirl around my head and heart that I don’t know where to start this June 5 and 6. Fifty years ago Bobby Kennedy won the California Democratic Primary June 5 and then was assassinated, dying June 6. Two million people lined the railroad tracks for his funeral procession from New York City to Washington D.C., all races and economic classes, honoring a man whom they saw as being able to bridge divisions, and bring hope in that dark and dangerous 1968. Over 4000 gather today in Arlington Cemetery to remember and ponder “hope.”

It’s dark in Mason City, Iowa, this morning, the kind of day one wants to just pull the covers over one’s head and refuse to feel or face 2018. What do you make of the news? A Supreme Court decision and the ongoing question of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  The Philadelphia Eagles? Invitation to the White House and presidential preoccupation with popularity. Honoring the nation and the flag by kneeling out of commitment to justice for all. Pardoning oneself or service for others? Children of immigrants and refugees separated from their parents as an incentive for their parents to not come to this country. Primary elections, here in Iowa, and yes, again on June 5 in California.

June 6: D Day 1944. A day that changed the world. Our nation together with its allies risking all in service that turned the tide of WW II. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. In 1968, the United States struggled over the Viet Nam War and we were torn apart over racial and economic inequality.  And 2018? Do we understand what is at stake in nuclear negotiations globally? Do we believe trade wars with allies protect our “God-given” national identity? Do we comprehend the necessity of a vital United Nations as much today as after WW II? Do we daily kneel and listen and work to understand each other across racial divides?

So we wonder. Issues swirl around. Is there an absence of hope? An anxiety? An apathy? What will the November 5th election results mean? In some places there were large turnouts; in some places fewer than 100 people in a county voted.

June 5: the 58th anniversary of my consecration as a deaconess. That day I made a commitment to faith and service in Christ for a lifetime. What would that mean? I would not fully know. We cannot know, but God knows and continues to call us. The days have been dark before and divisions dangerous. We pray for wisdom for the choices that are before us these days and for the courage and energy to live into the challenges together.