During the 12 days of Christmas, which ended on January 5, my family celebrated the birth of Christ. We celebrated the day that God enfleshed was born to redeem the created world. We remembered the woman giving birth in a barn, the wise men following a distant star, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ lifesaving escape from their own country. We celebrated this family’s life and the day of our savior’s birth with acts of gift-giving and good will.
Those days of kindness and outreach do not end because the season is passing. The birth of Christ is not solely a reminder for us to be kind to others. It is also a call to action. When we remember the Christ child, we remember that the image of God, imago dei, exists within each person. We remember that what we do to each other, we do to God.
This is a useful reminder when we realize that, shortly after the 12 days of Christmas, we are facing the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Actions undertaken by U.S. officials at Guantanamo Bay reflect forgetfulness about the God image in each person. Shortly after its establishment on January 11, 2002, it began developing a legacy of detainee torture.
Torture is a moral abomination. It degrades all involved—the victim, the perpetrator and the policymaker. Such action strips us of the belief of God in the other. Torture runs contrary to the teachings of all religions. This is affirmed by the more than 300 religious organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, including the Minnesota Council of Churches, and who have affirmed the need to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
In addition to being morally wrong, torture does not work. Interrogators with the U.S. military, the CIA and the FBI acknowledge that torture is an unreliable method of extracting information from detainees. The worst part is that our use of torture has itself been cited by terrorists to recruit followers who in turn further endanger U.S. troops. The practice of torture and existence of Guantanamo Bay have cost us dearly, increasing the United States’ vulnerability to physical and moral attacks and endangering our citizens abroad.
Don’t believe me? Ask Shane Bauer, one of three American hikers and a Minnesota native held for two years in Iran, the impact of the actions taken at Guantanamo Bay on his imprisonment. He said that every time he protested the inhumane conditions of their imprisonment, the guards reminded them of comparable conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
Torture and its symbol, Guantanamo Bay, have hurt the United States. I was grateful that when President Obama took office three years ago, he halted torture with an executive order. He also promised to close Guantanamo Bay. The latter has not happened, and I am fearful that with no law enacted making torture illegal, future administrations will not be prevented from reversing Obama’s executive order and employing torture.
Perhaps the reason no law yet exists while Guantanamo still does is because we do not yet have a full record of what has been done in our name. There has been no Commission of Inquiry to investigate who was tortured, who authorized the torture, and how we can ensure that we do not in the future descend so deeply into the dark cave of fear that we cannot see the difference between meritorious intelligence-gathering and self-defeating interrogation techniques.
On January 18, 2012, let us resolve to continue our climb out of that dark cave. Let us find at least enough daylight to illuminate what has been done through a Commission of Inquiry as well as to see the God in each other. Let us pray for a full blast of cleansing sunlight that can close down Guantanamo Bay and ensure that we as a nation never again condone the absolutely immoral act of torture and never coerce any of our own into committing it. This could be an act of gift-giving and goodwill for generations to come.
When some Minnesotans said, “No new taxes.” What did they mean?
“Take us into un-payable debt."
“Borrow from education in a way that we can never pay back.”
“Take action which will downgrade the state’s credit rating.
I don’t think so.
And when Minnesotans elected a governor who said, “I will increase taxes on those who make more than $2 million every year.” What did we mean?
“We really don’t want you to raise taxes on the wealthiest.”
“We really like the tax system in Minnesota where the higher your income the lower percentage of tax you pay.”
“We think that the tax cuts that Jesse Ventura gave to the richest Minnesotans should continue even though they are unfair to the rest of us and plunging us into debt.”
I don’t think so.
And yet the partisan politicians who vowed to keep the “no new taxes” pledge at any cost have kept this state from being the best we can be. Even worse, they are quicly tumbling us, at best, toward being a mediocre Minnesota.
Taxes themselves may be a subject that doesn’t often move the faith community but the way we tax as a state is certainly a moral concern. Is our tax policy fair?
It is not. We are not taxing fairly. Middle class households pay a little over 12 percent in state and local taxes. The wealthiest five percent of households pay 10.1 percent. The poorest families pay the highest rates of all.
We are not taxing fairly and because we do not, we are pushing off onto our children our unpaid bills.
I do not wish to leave a legacy of debt to our children, and I do not believe that a legacy of poverty and underinvestment is the Minnesota we want to be.
As the dust settles and the budget deal is signed we are still being asked to answer a central question about who will we be as a state. Let your legislative representative know how disappointed you are. Let them know that tax increases aren’t always bad. That taxes increases done to rebalance fairness is a good idea. Let them know that a tax system built on fairness and justice is a good Minnesota ideal.
Let them know that a few extreme politicians who have been hoodwinked by an invalid “no new taxes” ploy aimed at protecting the wealthiest - let them know- that those representatives do not represent the Minnesota we want to be.
Then go out and ask all your friends to join you. A message must be sent and must be sent now. And the people of Minnesota are the only ones who can turn this around. As a people, we have only pushed off our moment of crisis into our children’s future. Join me today in a belief that good stewardship is essential to the health of our communities and our state. It is time for people of faith to step up and say we as Minnesotans can do better.
Much is made in the media of the breakdown of civility, of lack of security and all the threats that cause us fear, especially from “other” people. Terrorism, by its nature senseless with random capacity to target any of us at any time, lays a cloud of fear and apprehension in our hearts and minds. Stereotypes of “others” compounds the alienation among our society. Fear breeds fear, and sometimes it evolves to hatred and violence.
Over fifty leaders of a wide range of religious traditions in Minnesota met this week for a three and a half hour session to counter such forces. It was a simple but carefully facilitated evening of getting acquainted and having purposeful conversations together in an effort to build relationships across lines of differences—differences of religion, tradition, ethnicity, and culture. The leaders shared hopes, concerns and ideas as well as deeply held values, texts and resources from their own traditions which speak to the value of knowing one another.
The social fabric of our community and state was strengthened that evening with new expressions of respect, and the value of knowing each other, as these religious leaders listened, shared and built new connections with one another. Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, American Indian, Bahai, Muslim, Jew, Christian, and various sub-divisions of some of these, were present and participating. In fact, the group saw value in those differences informing and enriching us, even helping us deepen our understanding and conviction in our own traditions.
The participants did converge on the need to get positive symbols, images and messages into the media about standing together without giving up our differences. The “old media” wasn’t present--not invited to this fresh opening of new relationships. It was not about the press. Yet there is hope that the new media will carry many testimonials—like this one—of the new mutual respect. Who knows what ripple or what multiplier effect will emanate from this occasion.
Look for these leaders to be standing together at 9-11-11 and other times as well, for the good of all people of Minnesota. All agreed there is no place for the hate that breeds terrorism and we must stand together against such hate.
In a democracy, religious freedom must prevail and respect for such freedom must grow. May we all share in the blessings of standing together in new and enriching relationships with “other” people.
God calls us to be good stewards of creation, to act for justice, to treat our bodies as temples, and to hold out hope for the future. (This is hard to accomplish in a world where you need to scan the fine print of grocery store ingredients lists for words like “methylparaben” and “phthalates.”). This summer many of us will have a chance to explore and enjoy the wonderful place called Minnesota. I invite us all to consider the health of our land and all its people, including yourself. Perhaps this summer we could renew our twin commitments to care for the land and to steward our own health and well-being.
Next month I will be a guest presenter at a wonderful spot, Rancho la Puerta which takes these commitments seriously. I will get a chance to eat organically, exercise well, and sleep a good night’s sleep - that is, to steward my own God-given body. As I get ready for some time off to focus on my own health and wellbeing, I am grateful for those who have come before me in this work. In particular, I want to lift up the instigator, creator, developer, and heart beat of Rancho La Puerta: Deborah Szekely. Deborah was concerned about toxic chemicals and health-food long before any of my generation even knew what those words meant. She made a pathway for many if us - even if we don’t know it. Thank you, Deborah.
In faithful response to the work of that generation, we have to each do our part. The Minnesota Council of Churches, with the National Council of Churches, is working on these issues from the federal level to local work. At the federal level we are trying to protect water, impact legislation that would keep toxic chemicals out of our everyday life and make sure the EPA has the authority it needs and with that authority does the right thing. If you are interested in the federal work try: http://nccecojustice.org/index.php>
Locally, through our “Healthy Homes, Healthy Congregations” set of presentations, Minnesota Council of Churches educates faith communities about the theological basis for caring about toxic chemicals, how to minimize individual and communal exposure to toxic chemicals, and how to advocate for a world where we are less exposed to toxic chemicals. Different presentations have different foci: chemicals in cleaning products, chemicals in cosmetic products, issues of active seniors, issues in general, congregations, and congregational leaders. Our presentations work as an adult education hour or as an interactive experience during worship. But you don’t need to wait to hear from us before acting on your own renewed commitments to the land and your health.
5 Tips on How to Green your Place of Worship:
People in a congregation seeking to be better stewards of creation, to act for environmental justice, to help their fellow worshippers treat their bodies as temples, and to believe in a better future have many tools available to them. In order to reduce the presence of toxic chemicals in the church building, please consider:
For connection on these matters contact firstname.lastname@example.org
As summer approaches let’s help keep Minnesota green all year ‘round.
Well, I’m still here, how about you? Anybody missing?
How in the world does somebody think they know the day the world will end, seems a bit idolatrous to me, but here’s basically how this is all got calculated.
In Genesis 7:4, God said to Noah: "Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made." It is calculated that when God referred to seven days, God meant both seven days and seven thousand years. That calculation comes from the verse which says that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The flood occurred in 4990 BC, we are told. Seven thousand years later is 2011.
So there’s the year. Now how do we get the date? That is related to the number of days between the Crucifixion and May 21, 2011. There are 722,500 days between these dates. 722,500 is a significant number because it is composed of the significant numbers 5x10x17x5x10x17. Five signifies redemption; ten signifies completion; and 17 signifies heaven. The numbers represent the day of redemption (5) and the end of the Christian era (10) and the ascent to heaven (17) -- and these factors are doubled for added significance. According to pamphlet, I didnlt actually add it all up.