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Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Drops Into the Rainbow

Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water:
in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing
to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river
just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading
from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them,
once you’ve started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute you forget;
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart
a mighty wave of tears you’ve stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy
ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
just a flash and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort
on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn’t believe the volume
of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
in a minute you forget;
But there’s gladness still a-swelling,
and there’s joy circling yet,
And you’ve rolled a wave of comfort
whose sweet music can be heard
Over miles and miles of water
just by dropping one kind word.

~By James W. Foley~ from The Best Loved Poems of the American People

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In 1902, Violet Oakley was the first woman artist to receive a commission to adorn a State Capitol building in the United States. For the Pennsylvania State Capitol Supreme Court chamber, she chose to represent law as movement up a musical scale, beginning with the painting Divine Law, which she said was both the Alpha and the Omega.

 

Part II of Sharon L. Baker’s continues to move a theological comb through the issue of hell.  The first tangle is the assumption that hell is a violent place.   With little biblical evidence for the concept of hell, Baker moves to the mythic level of explanation.  Citing  the work of Rene Girard, hell is recognized as management of evil.  Specifically, the theme of scapegoat exists across different cultures.  The scapegoat management of evil works like this.  A creatur, person or community is identified as  an appropriate target.  The community then unleashes its violence on the scapegoat and are thus purged of their violent inclinations.  Baker notes that the myth of the scapegoat “…camouflage the gravity of the violence against a community by taking the side of the murderers against the victims.  Illegitimate violence is reframed as legitimate.” (65).  Baker argues strongly that the scapegoat must not be the primary lens through which we see our God and issues of justice.  The Jesus lens is preferred.  And as she has mentioned earlier – not Jesus as scapegoat. 

The Jesus lens links love and justice… not violence and justice.  (This is where she cites the art work of Violet Oakley) What prepares the human being to love in the midst of evil?  Forgiveness is the answer that Baker provides. Baker’s treatment of forgiveness seems overly tidy and, again, God is very anthropomorphized as she discusses forgiveness.   However, she guides us to a functional understanding of forgiveness. “Forgiveness liberates us from the prison of an otherwise irreversible past and transforms the future from one of condemnation and retribution to an open future of redemption and reconciliation.”  Ultimately, Baker’s defintion of forgiveness could be improved by Marjorie Suchocki’s work Fall to Violence

As I read, my antennae of caution goes up.  Just as I hope that Baker will dismiss hell as a trivial and petty idea all together, I have the sense that she will not be letting go of hell in part III. 

This is difficult reading in that much of Baker’s theology seems to be shadowed in an anthropormorphized God.  But her reach beyond tradition and biblical literalism is most appreciated.  Her work is significant and bridge building.  Our forebearance of one another can make all the difference as we critique and move theology forward.

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Chapters 7-10 of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger considers issues of obesity, educational acheivement, teenage pregancy and violence.  In all the cases the authors cite equality as a factor that informs previous and partial explanations.   Below is a snapshot of each chapter.

  1. Obesity: Addressing the epidemic of obesity, the authors invite the readers to consider the matrix of issues involved and to include inequality in the mix.   The World Health Organization performed a study in the 1980s that found obesity has increased as the disparity in the social gradient as increased.  Obesity, as cited in previous chapters of this book is more prevalent among the poor than among the wealthy.  Further they concluded that it “seemed that people in more unequal societies are eating more and exercising less.” (95).   All the the states within the United States have an adult obesity of at least 20 per cent.  Studies in this chapter reveal that despite knowing what produces a healthy body, many people do the contrary.    Knowing that behavioral changes are more possible when we feel positive about our life and have the sense that we can control the changes, Pickett and Wilkinson speculate that lessening inequality could affect the epidemic of obesity.
  2. Education  The drop out rate of children cannot be measured by poverty alone.  “No state has a poverty rate of higher than 17 per cent but drop-out rates are above 20 per cent in sixteen states and dropping out is not confined to the poor.  When unequal situations are revealed in the classrooms, the performance of those in the lower social gradient is affected negatively.  This has been tested internationally in at least the UK, India, and the United States.   Particularly, parental attention and bonding to the children and investment in their education is an indicator of future success.  The more the parents are involved in the first three years of their children’s life and education the more successful the child is likely to be.  Countries that are more equal provide more extended maternity leave (Sweden – 3 months paid and 3 months unpaid).   More unequal countries like the United States provide less (no more than 12 weeks).
  3. Teenage Births  This chapter can be well summarized with the following excerpt from page 121 of the book.  “Teenage birth rates are higher in communities that also have high divorce rates, low levels of trust and low social cohesion, high unemployment, poverty, and high crime rates.  It has been suggested by others that teeange motherhood is a choice that women make when they feel they have no other propsects for achieving the social credentials of adulthood, such as a stable intimate relationship or rewarding employment.  Sociologist, Kristin Luker claims that it is ‘the discouraged disadvantaged’ who become teenage mothers.”   While this is not always the case, this explanation may contribute to a more comprehensive response to the trends.
  4.   Violence  Immediately within this chapter, the authors cite a problem with studies in violence.  Most studies will emphasize an experience with shame or humiliation as a precursor or root to violent behavior.   However, all of us identify with these experiences of shame and humiliation.  “…why is it predominantly among young men that those feelings escalate to violent acts?” (123)   It is as if the authors play connect the dots between significant studies that show violence is not just about poverty but about inequality.  As inequality increases so does violent crime.  When there is less hope that education, material wealth, good employment, esteem from peers will be realized, violence is perceived as an immediate way to maintain respect and honor.

Issues of inequality are at the heart of the Gospel message of the church.  Evidence of inequality could likely be the new mission field of the church in North America.  We know as the church is related to relevant mission, so it is able to experience revitalization.   The history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is an intellectual and pragmatic one.  Considering pragmatic responses to the findings recorded in The Spirit Level may be among the most important responses we could make.  Educating pastors which such information and then encouraging pastors to consider calls in areas that are challenged by inequality is one possibility.   Surely financial support and congregational support will be required to transition churches who have not been as active in the social ministry as they would like to have been. 

In my own ministry, some of the greatest rewards have been the times that the church has allowed people of unequal status in the larger culture to co-mingle in the pews.   It is always interesting to me how folks who are unequal in all other places are fast friends, colleagues and mutual cheerleaders in the church.    As contrasting individuals build relationship, there is the experience of what process theology calls harmony.  Harmony is the reconciliation of constrasting events or circumstances.  The degree of the contrast is congruent to the degree of the harmony experienced.   Jesus is remembered for being most interested in reconciliation of contrasts and discovering anew that we are all children equal in the site of Goid.    The church of today still has the potential to live into the Jesus movement of the ancient days.

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