Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May Day

Tomorrow, the first day of May, is often called May Day and it has been observed as a special day in widely diverse ways. In addition, Mayday is an international radio-telephone signal word used as a distress call.
In the Northern Hemisphere, May Day is an ancient spring festival and is observed as such in some countries. Although it was a long time ago, I remember hearing about giving “May baskets” and dancing around a “Maypole” on May Day. These practices have now largely fallen into disuse.
But in 1967, the first full year I lived in Japan, I learned about a different type of May Day. Especially back then, May Day was celebrated in Japan and in many other countries as International Workers’ Day. Mainly in that connection, May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries and celebrated unofficially in many other countries.
Actually, though, the observance of May 1 as Workers’ Day has a long history in this country. In October 1884, a convention held by the American Federation of Labor (under its previous name) unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard.
As the chosen date approached, labor unions prepared for a general strike in support of the eight-hour workday. On Saturday, May 1, 1886, rallies were held throughout the nation. Estimates of the number of striking workers across the U.S. range from 300,000 to half a million.
But the eight-hour day did not become a reality until 1938, when the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act made eight hours the legal day’s work throughout the nation. Extra pay (time and a half at least) had to be given to those who worked more than eight hours in a day.
Five years earlier, though, a remarkable woman began a movement mostly to help those who were living in poverty because of lack of work or because of low wages. That woman was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Although she had lived a bohemian life for several years, in 1927 she became a Catholic and then increasingly sought to follow the teachings of Jesus. (I have written about her previously.)
On May 1, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, The Catholic Worker newspaper made its debut with a first issue of twenty-five hundred copies. Dorothy Day and a few others hawked the paper in Union Square for a penny a copy (still the price) to passersby.” (This is the opening paragraph on the Catholic Worker website.)
The Catholic Worker Movement (CWM) is rooted in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. So in addition to the newspaper, the CWM has sought through the years to provide meals and lodging for needy people.
Today 213 Catholic Worker communities across the nation remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.
I have before me the March-April issue of “The Catholic Worker,” which is only published seven times a year now. It contains a review of the new (2012) book “Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day,” which I look forward to reading.
And just last week June and I enjoyed watching “Entertaining Angels,” the 1996 movie about the life and work of Day.
Please join me in giving thanks for the inspiring life of Dorothy Day and the widespread influence of “The Catholic Worker,” first published 80 years ago tomorrow, on May Day, 1933.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Passing of Three Dear Friends

This blog posting is much more personal than most, but perhaps you will let me use this opportunity to share with you about the passing of three dear friends this month.

On April 5 we received the news that Norma Young, 77, our friend and longtime missionary associate in Japan had passed away. We were not particularly surprised at the news, for she had been battling brain tumors for quite some time, and recently we had received word than she was in hospice care. Still, it was sad to hear of her passing, and our prayers are with her husband, Hugh.
Then on April 11 we received this shocking email message: The family of Clyde and Nancy Tilley wish to inform you of their passing. They died one day apart on April 9 and 10 of natural causes. Their funeral service is 7:30 pm Friday evening, April 12th at Smith Mortuary in Maryville, TN.”
Like Norma, Nancy, 76, had been in poor health for some time, so her passing was not completely unexpected. But we didn’t know that Clyde, 78, had been seriously ill, and he was the one who passed first. Perhaps it was more than Nancy’s weak heart could stand when she heard of Clyde’s passing, for she died the next day.
Among other things, Norma was a cartoonist, and a number of her cartoons were published in “The Commission,” the SBC missions magazine. Later, her cartoons were more widely used in “The Baptist Peacemaker,” the publication of the Baptist Peacemakers Fellowship of North America (BPFNA).
My friend Ken Sehested, who was the founding (in 1984) Executive Director of the BPFNA, sent me the following cartoon, which was Norma’s first one to be published in “The Baptist Peacemaker.” 
The kingdom of God first? Really first?! How inconvenient!!

Clyde was a university professor for much of his adult life and a pastor before, during, and after his years on a university faculty. He was also an author, his main book being “The Surpassing Righteousness: Evangelism and Ethics in the Sermon on the Mount” (1992). His main teaching position was at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
In addition, Clyde also served on the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity International (from 1980 to 1991) and was a supporter of BPFNA. Perhaps it was in 1986 that I flew to Tennessee to visit him and Nancy, and he and I then drove to Virginia to attend that summer’s BPFNA “peace camp.”
Nancy’s sphere of influence was more local, but she was one of the most caring persons I have ever known, greatly concerned about the well-being of not only her children and, later, her grandchildren, but of all people, local and far away, who were in spiritual and/or material need.
All of us who knew Norma, Nancy, and/or Clyde miss them greatly. But we are thankful for their influential lives and for the blessing of knowing them personally.
Reflecting on the passing of these dear friends, all of whom were born in the same decade as I, leads me to appreciate even more the words of Henri Amiel (1821-81), the Swiss philosopher: “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be quick to love and make haste to be kind.”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Celebrating Earth Day

“The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Many of us grew up hearing these words from Psalm 24:1 (KJV) from time to time. That being the case, it would seem that churches would be eager to celebrate Earth Day, using the Sunday closest to that day as a special time to emphasize the proper use of and care for the earth.
 However, and it may just be my misperception, it seems that churches now are less likely to celebrate Earth Day than most other segments of society.
Monday, April 22, will be Earth Day 2013, and this year’s global Earth Day theme is “The Face of Climate Change.” Maybe even more than in the past, churches may not say much about Earth Day this year, for there are Christians (and a growing number of pastors) who reject the idea of climate change, at least as something that is being caused by or made worse by us humans.

The genesis of Earth Day is credited to Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), a U.S. Senator (D-Wis.), who called for an environmental teach-in to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated that year. It has been an annual observance ever since. But not everyone thinks that Earth Day is a good or necessary celebration—especially if it talks about such things as global warming.
Chris Mooney is a young (b. 1977) U.S. journalist and academic, a Yale University graduate who now focuses on writing about science and politics. His most recent book is “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality” (2012).
In the Introduction of his new book, Mooney makes reference to a recent survey which indicated that “only 18 percent of Republicans and Tea Party members accepted the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans” (pp. 6-7). “In other words,” Mooney goes ahead to say, “political conservatives have placed themselves in direct conflict with modern scientific knowledge, which shows beyond serious question that global warming is real and caused by humans” (p. 7, emphasis in original).
This issue of climate change continues to be a divisive issue among U.S. citizens in general and among Christians in particular. According to Conservapedia.com, global warming is a “liberal hoax.” (In case you don’t know, Conservapedia is written from a self-described American conservative and Christian point of view. The website was started in 2006 by Andrew Schlafly, son of the anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly, to counter what he called the liberal bias of Wikipedia.)
But can or should the problem of global warming be so easily brushed aside? Earlier this month the name of James Hansen was in the news. On April 2 a CBS headline said, “NASA climate scientist James Hansen quits to fight climate change.” Hansen (b. 1941) had been the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981. Upon leaving NASA he said he planned to take a more active role in the political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
This is just one example of a multitude of top-notch scientists who have no doubt that global warming is real and caused by humans as Mooney declared. That is why I happy that Earth Day will widely observed on April 22, in spite of conservative Christians, and why I hope it will help more people face up to the fact of climate change and the necessity of us humans doing more to combat the dire consequences of that change.