Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Nightmare in Maryville"

Maryville is a county seat town in northwest Missouri. It is the home of Northwest Missouri State University, and as we lived in the neighboring county that is where several of my high school classmates went to college.

Outside of those familiar with northwest Missouri, though, not many people have heard much about Maryville. But that recently changed.
But since the appearance of “Nightmare in Maryville,” the front page article in the Oct. 13 issue of the Kansas City Star, the town of some 12,000 people has been in newspapers as far away as Los Angeles, on national TV news programs, and on prominent websites like (at least nine times, first at this link).
It all centers on Daisy Coleman, a 14-years-old girl who in Jan. 2012 was allegedly raped by a high school senior. But no one was convicted of the crime against Daisy—mainly, it seems, because the guilty young man was from a prominent family who was able to get the charges dropped.
On Oct. 18, Daisy divulged “what really happened” in an article posted on the Internet, and it seems to be in basic agreement with the Star’s article. It seems clear she did some things she shouldn’t have done.
She shouldn’t have been drinking alcohol with her 13-year-old friend, as that is illegal. She shouldn’t have sneaked out to “have fun” with older boys in the middle of the night. And she shouldn’t have drunk the “bitch cup” when she got there.
But what she did pales in comparison to what happened next. It seems quite clear that she was sexually abused—and then dumped back outside her house and “left for dead” in the freezing cold. None of the foolish things she did can possibly justify the criminal action taken against her.
Neither can anything excuse the crassness of the people in Maryville who turned against her rather than blaming those who grossly mistreated her.
Unfortunately, rape cases are not terribly rare, and if it had “only” been that, it would not have been widely reported in the media. In 2011 there were over 1,450 cases of forcible rape in Missouri, including four in Nodaway County, where Daisy lived with her mother and three brothers.
But in the case of Daisy, the crime against her has been aggravated by what seems to be a failure to prosecute adequately the perpetrators of the crime, as well as by the negative reactions toward Daisy and her family.
A special prosecutor from Kansas City has now been appointed to re-open the case. Several months from now there may be “justice for Daisy,” such as many people locally and nationally are calling for.
In reading Daisy’s own version of what happened on that night 21 months ago and since, I was sorry to see that she wrote, “I quit praying because if God were real, why would he do this?” I can understanding something of the pain and hurt Daisy has experienced, on various levels.
But why blame God? How did God have anything directly to do with her own misbehavior, the criminal behavior of those who abused her, or the failure of the legal system?
I wish Daisy could read the helpful new book with the pungent title “How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God” (2013) by Ian Punnett.
At any rate, I want to say, “Daisy, don’t be so quick to give up on God. You badly need God’s warm embrace and the support of a community of faith. And it is possible for you to find both.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

In Appreciation of Ignatius and the Jesuits

As many of you know, I teach one course a semester at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. I have been doing that, and have greatly enjoying doing that, since August 2006, so I am now in my fifteenth semester there. How time flies!
Founded in 1910 as Rockhurst College, it became a university in 1999 and is one of 28 member institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. The oldest and most prestigious member of that organization is Georgetown University, founded in 1789.
The Society of Jesus (S.J.), whose members are usually called Jesuits, is a Catholic Order founded by Ignatius Loyola and officially approved six years later by Pope Paul III in 1540. It is currently the largest male Order in the Roman Catholic Church with about 17,500 members worldwide.
Ignatius, whose real name was Iñigo López de Loyola, was born in the Basque region of Spain on October 27, 1491. (Loyola was the name of the village where he was born, not a “family name,” although it is often used that way now.)

As a young man, Ignatius was a knight and was wounded in battle in 1521—a month after Luther had declared “Here I stand” at the Imperial Diet of Worms in Germany.

While recovering, Ignatius turned his attention to spiritual matters. This resulted in his writing “Spiritual Exercises” in 1522-24. After recuperating, he ended up at Paris University where he and six university friends formed the Society of Jesus on August 15, 1534.
Statue of Ignatius at Rockhurst U.
Before starting to teach at Rockhurst, I knew little about Ignatius or the Jesuits. (I was a big admirer, though, of Father Gabriel, the impressive young Jesuit missionary in the superlative 1986 movie “The Mission.”)
And I did know about Francis Xavier, one of the original seven Jesuits and the first Jesuit missionary. In 1549 he became the first Christian missionary to set foot in Japan.
As I have learned more about them, my appreciation for both Ignatius and the Jesuits has grown. Earlier this year I read Margaret Silf’s popularly done, and somewhat quixotic, book “Just Call Me López: Getting to the Heart of Ignatius of Loyola” (2012). (This might be a book some of you would enjoy reading if you want to learn more about Ignatius.)
Perhaps the primary popularizer of the Jesuits in the U.S. at this time is James Martin (S.J., b. 1960). In addition to his highly readable “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” (2010) in which he explains how Ignatius helps people with practical spirituality, from time to time he also appears on “The Colbert Report.”
Some of the notable Jesuits you may have heard of include Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan, and John Dear (about whom I want to post an article soon). Of course the most famous Jesuit of all is now Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
Ignatius’ main life principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”). I use this on the introductory page of the PowerPoint slides I use for each class period at RU.
Even though I am not a Jesuit and have several distinctly different doctrinal beliefs, I admire the sincerity and spiritual commitment of Ignatius and am not reluctant to use his words as a suitable expression for my work at a Jesuit university.
And I am happy to post this in appreciation of Ignatius and the Jesuits.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"It's Not About the Nail"

Some of you probably have seen a certain YouTube video making the rounds. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to click on this link and watch the 1 min. 42 sec. video before reading the rest of this posting.
Written and produced by Jason Headley, the above-mentioned video is titled “It’s Not About the Nail.” It was sent to me by a family member who referred to it (on the email subject line) as “Fun (and short) video clip -- worth watching.”
Online comments include such words as “hilarious,” “LOL,” and “cracking up” – along with many more serious and some sarcastic comments.
In my reply to those on the family distro, I wrote, “Well, I thought this video was interesting, but I didn't think it was funny.” And, “It seems to me that sometimes just listening/understanding isn't enough and not particularly helpful.”
The response from the one who initiated the conversation: “Sometimes no matter how right you may be, if you cannot connect empathically with the other person, it is all for naught and they will not hear your truth.” I agree. But sometimes people will not listen to reason even if you do connect empathically.
That’s the reason I didn’t think the video was funny. The guy seems to have listened quite well. But that didn’t seem to help overcome the pain the woman in the video was experiencing. As my oldest granddaughter wrote, “Maybe it’s just that sometimes people just have to face facts in their own time.” Probably so. But sometimes we may need to confront others.
This discussion brought to mind the fine book “Caring Enough to Confront” (1973; 3rd ed., 2009) by Mennonite theologian David Augsburger (b. 1938). In the Preface, Augsburger writes, “If I love you, I must tell you the truth” (p. iii).
Of course, the truth must be expressed carefully and with compassion. That is why Augsburger’s first chapter is called “Care-fronting: A Creative Way Through Conflict.” Putting care and confrontation together provides “the unique combination of truth and love that is necessary for building human relationships” (p. 9)
Empathic listening is important in showing others that we care about them, and usually any communication is enhanced by really paying attention to the other’s pain and fears. Once we help others know that we really care about them, then perhaps we can help them solve the problems they are facing or the fears they are wrestling with.
The old saying is doubtlessly true in many cases: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”
Empathetic listening is important in families and among close friends. And certainly it needs to be practiced wherever, and especially whenever, there are conflicts—at home, among friends, at work and elsewhere.
Is that how I should respond to those who strongly disagree with my opinions expressed in this blog (or on Facebook)? Perhaps to a certain degree. But I don’t make these postings as a pastor, counselor, or mediator. I am trying to encourage serious thinking, and thoughtful dialogue.
When there are disagreements with what I write, I welcome people expressing their opposing viewpoints. But I don’t think my primary response should be, “Yes, I understand how you feel.”
There is a time and place to deal with feelings, of course. But this blog is designed primarily for dialogue, which occurs best when opposing viewpoints are expressed and discussed. Often, indeed, it is the nail needs to be talked about.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Introducing Kiva

Some of you may know what Kiva is, but for those who don’t I am using this blog posting to introduce Kiva. Those of you who already know about Kiva will likely be happy having it introduced to others.
 Kiva Microfunds was founded as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization eight years ago, in October 2005. It now provides a way for people to lend money via the Internet to people in developing countries through Kiva's 225 field partners. These field partners can be microfinance institutions, social businesses, schools or non-profit organizations.

Let me share our experience with Kiva to illustrate. For a while now, June and I have made some small ($25) loans to people in various parts of the world, joining with others to provide them with the financial resources to become more economically independent and to have a better livelihood for themselves and their families.
Our first loan, made in January 2010, was one of several loans made to a group of 21 women in Cambodia. Chanthol, president of the group, wanted to borrow money so she could buy pigs to raise in order to provide for her family better. Kiva members joined together to provide $3,275 to that group Cambodian women, and in 13 months it was all paid back. Then we used our $25 loan to respond to another request.
Since that first loan, we have helped Badar, a man in Afghanistan who needed funds to expand his general store in Kabul in order to provide better for his family of six children. Then we helped Shamim, a widow in Pakistan who applied for a Kiva loan for her son. He drove a rented rickshaw but wanted to buy his own rickshaw to minimize expenses and increase his income. These three loans were all paid back on time.
We were not so fortunate on the next loan. It was to a group of four Afghani women who needed money to enhance their baking business. But they defaulted on their loan, and we were repaid only $20.97 of the $25 loan we made to them. There were 34 other lenders who shared in the small loss on this loan. Overall, though, Kiva’s repayment rate is 99%.
We have made other loans to two separate women in Ecuador and also to Ahn, a woman who lives in Ho Chi Minh City. They were all paid back on time.
One loan that is now being paid back was made to Wafa, a Palestinian woman who requested a Kiva loan of $2,000 to help her husband buy a new engine for the taxi he drives. His income as a taxi driver is all they have for themselves and their five children. The website shows others, with a picture of many, who are helping with this loan, and there are 59 in addition to June and me. Besides the U.S. they are from at least 14 other countries, including Kuwait, Malasia, Turkey and Vietnam. The others are mostly from European countries.
Last week we received an email from Kiva saying that they had just reached the one million lender mark. These lenders have provided nearly $500 million dollars to more than 1,140,000 people in 72 countries. June and I are happy to be part of this. It has cost us very little, but by joining with others we have been able to be a big help to several people around the world.
Perhaps some of you would like to do this, too. If so, just click on to get started.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cruz Control?

Most of us didn’t know much about U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) until fairly recently. He became widely known, of course, after his 21-hour pseudo-filibuster on the Senate floor on Sept. 24. And since October 1 he, and those who agree with him, have been largely in control of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Some basic facts about Cruz, who has been a member of the Senate only since January of this year: He was named Rafael Edward Cruz at the time of his birth in December 1970 in Calgary, Canada. Even though his father, Rafael Cruz, was born in Cuba, his mother, Eleanor Darragh, was born in Delaware. Because of his mother’s citizenship, Sen. Cruz is also an U.S. citizen.
After graduating as the 1988 valedictorian of Second Baptist High School in Houston, Cruz graduated from Princeton University and then was a magna cum laude graduate at Harvard Law School in 1995. He is clearly nobody’s dummy. But even brilliant people can be misguided in their political and religious views.
Recently I have received two emails mentioning Cruz’s father. A “Thinking Friend” in Louisiana wrote that Ted Cruz’s family became Baptists when they escaped from Cuba. Dan also said, “I saw a video of Cruz's father, speaking in broken English, comparing Fidel Castro and Barack Obama.” (Here is a link to that video.)
Then a good friend at church sent the link to this article by Chris Hedges and asked for my comments. Hedges refers to Rafael Cruz as “a rabid right-wing Christian preacher.” That seems to be an accurate depiction of the man.
Rafael was born in Cuba in 1939, and as a teenager became involved in the revolution against Batista. In 1957 he was jailed and tortured before fleeing to Texas with a student visa, where he graduated from the University of Texas in 1961.
In a recent advertisement for an audio Spanish Bible narrated by Rafael Cruz, he is said to be “Director of Purifying Fire Ministries and a professor of Bible and Theology at Advance Bible Institute.” I could find no other information about either entity. And I have also been unable to find any church location for Cruz’s ministries in Carrollton, Texas, where he lives.
Suzanne Hinn, wife of televangelist Benny Hinn, is the founder of an organization called Purifying Fire International, and Cruz has been identified with that group. But in spite of the similarity of the names, I could find no evidence that they are linked, in spite of some articles (probably incorrectly) connecting the two.
An Oct. 1 article on Huffington Post links Cruz to an ultra-rightwing ideology known as Christian dominionism or Christian reconstructionism, a frightful theology I wrote about in my book “Fed Up with Fundamentalism” (pp. 48-51). That in itself is cause for considerable concern.
Rafael Cruz, who became an American citizen in 2005, has been an outspoken cheerleader for his son Ted and his ideas, especially among conservative Christians. A recent story in the Washington Times is titled, “Rafael Cruz energizes Colorado Christians.” He was speaking at a Restoring Christian Values brunch before preaching at a Colorado Springs church on Sunday, Sept. 29.
The brunch was partially sponsored by CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. In an Oct. 4 interview posted on their website, Cruz spoke mainly, and in strong terms, against Obamacare, which he opposes as much as his son does.
The welfare of the nation will continue to suffer if we allow the country to fall under the control of ideas forwarded so forcefully by Sen. Cruz and his father.