What Can I Do to Help in Ferguson?

I am having a series of conversations with people who ask me (as if I’m an expert!) of what they can do to help with the situation in Ferguson.

I’m always going to approach this from my grid as a Christian believer. So some of my answers come from my own faith in a powerful, merciful, and just God. But some of them are ordinary things anyone can do.

First, if you’re a believer, you can pray. You can pray that God moves on the people of Ferguson, of St. Louis, of Missouri, of the entire United States. There are seriously wrong things going on, and as believers we must ask God to be the director and enabler of healing. Prayer is a requisite.

After that, there are more tangible things to do. People in Ferguson and elsewhere are raw, angry, mad, frightened, and reacting in fear. An awful lot of terrible things are being said by people who are lashing out at other people for events that make no sense.

So, you can offer support to those people who are being attacked or frightened or shouted down. Support them by directly contacting them, when possible, with your words of empathy. Try to listen to them, and try to understand what their lives are like, and what they are like.

I have to say, there is an awful lot of truly vile things being said by people about the people of Ferguson. I am so ashamed as a follower of Christ to hear what my fellow believers are saying, in public, in postings on the internet, in their interviews on TV. The people on the receiving end of those attacks are doubly hurt, first by the events going on in their community, and now with the attacks upon them. So reach out to them in love, compassion, and empathy. Not with sympathy or pity. With an understanding that they are like you—trying to live a godly life, trying to do the right thing.

And, you can offer tangible support as well. For example, the church where Mike Brown’s family attends was burned and destroyed by arson. What with the fire, water, and smoke damage, their church is ruined. They will go on, but they have no home. Millions of American Christians are assured that their church will be there when they wake up on a Sunday morning, but this Sunday the members of Flood Christian Church in St. Louis, Missouri will have no place to go.

If you want to support the people of this church, you can do so quickly and easily by donating what they need most, outside of prayer and verbal support. You can send them a donation to help rebuild their church.

Now, I cannot speak for the church. I don’t know them, don’t know their pastor, don’t live in the area. But these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These people are our fellow Americans. These people should have the same right to worship freely as anyone does in America, free to worship as they will and free to worship in their own building without the fear of it being burned to the ground.

There will be other things that arise that will need our support, and there will be plenty more discussions about what we can do to understand the problems in America. But in this one thing—the people and churches of Ferguson—we can offer real, connective, tangible support.

If you seriously want to do something, I’ve provided some ways.

To contact Flood Christian Church, you can use one of these links:

The church website: http://www.thefloodchurch.org/

The church Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheFloodChristianChurch

The church donation page: http://www.gofundme.com/huw1h0

Again, I’m not connected with them. Except I am, as a Christian believer. And this is something that frankly we should do as believers.

More thoughts on the Christian response to Ferguson

See. here’s the thing, Christians: we have an opportunity to speak out about injustice to our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are largely silent or even supporting the whitewash in #Ferguson.

We were so righteously angry over same-sex marriage and Chik-Fil-A. We were so righteously angry over a baker and a wedding photographer being told to obey the law. How dare people ask us to violate our consciences!

But here we have yet another clear example of people here in these United States who do not have the assurance of their civil rights being protected, and do not have the assurance that they will not be killed randomly in the name of the law, and we are either silent or, even more shockingly, publicly praising this breakdown in justice.

These are actual people being gunned down, here in the United States, and they are nearly always without the protection of the law, of society, and, sadly, the church.

We wonder why we have no witness in America, why we have no power in our preaching, why our churches are emptying and why our children and grandchildren are leaving the faith.

It is because they see this, the silence on obvious oppression and wrong, and an unholy emphasis on the unnecessary. We do not have the power of the cross in our preaching and in our lives, and we have nothing to offer except the theology of the trivial.

Quotes from “Stars in the Texas Sky”

I’ll be quoting from the novel “Stars in the Texas Sky” for the next few days, some of the more memorable things said by the characters.

Today’s quote is from Talitha Lawson, wife of the mayor of Windmill, Texas:

In a small Texas town, you follow football in the fall and baseball in the spring and summer. And in the winter you just stay inside and talk about spring, summer, and fall. World without end, amen.

Yevgeniy and the Parade of the Red Balloons

redballoons

This is a short story from my book River of Dreams (available online in print and ebook formats). We were given a photo and then asked to write a story. This picture shows a line of seven people, possibly family members, some holding red balloons, walking down a street in some town in modern Russia. I don’t think there’s actually any such parade in St. Petersburg, but if there were, this family would fit right in—all except Yevgeniy…

“Hurry up, Yevgeniy! You’re going to make us all late!” Masha was laying out the fish and sliced onions for the afternoon meal, checking the rising dough for the piroshkis, smelling the warm mixture of chopped onions and beef and cabbage for the stuffing.

Yevgeniy Abramofsky stared at the mirror on the wall. His eyes were still red from the tears dried from Omi’s apron. Today was the Parade of the Commemoration of the Soldiers of the Motherland, and all St. Petersburg would be out, dressed in their finery and best shoes, cheering on the marching and the drumming and the music, smelling the fried breads and cookies and the slightly sour-sweet aroma of spilled kvass.

And Yevgeniy would not be there, not in the parade, not on the sidelines, not on the balcony. He had, against all commands and orders, gone into the Forbidden Room where there were Many Breakable Things, and he had opened the closet to check, just one more time, for the delightful props they would be carrying to celebrate Toys and Children, his family and joining their neighbors in solidarity, taking part with all St. Petersburg to honor the new Russia of peace and light and freedom.

And somehow, all of Mama’s careful stacking and neat ordered shelves had come undone, just when he was reaching out to take his very own balloon, and it had all come crashing down. Plates and cups and the metal box with Papa’s tobacco, little porcelain figurines from Paris, the bottle of expensive perfume that no one opened, the shelves themselves somehow coming loose as he attempted to simply pull the box closer and closer, the chair tumbling below him, and everything landing on top of him in one sticky, stinky, muddled mess.

Mama and Papa and Omi had rushed into the room at the sound, his aunts and uncles stood at the door, and there was no speaking. There was nothing to say. Yevgeniy had ruined the family who would now be missing from the grand celebration. In the square block of Russian citizens there would be a conspicuous absence of seven Abramofskys, sure to be noticed by neighbors and block captains and all the citizens lined up on the streets.

He stared at his face in the mirror, a criminal and a thief and a burglar, the words from Mama and Papa and Omi still ringing in his ears. There was nothing to be done now, of course. Six people could not go where seven were expected; seven could not go empty handed where seven red balloons were required. Six balloon were safe, but one—his balloon—was ruined by the spilled perfume, the rubber melting in the alcohol, the sweet smell of lilacs and roses and something that didn’t quite smell at all but simply was tasted at the back of your throat permeated the air still. His hands were pink and raw from the scrubbing Mama had performed to get the cloying aroma off, the faint traces of lanolin and coal tar mixing with the rosewater scent.

Tante Albertina came into the room, carrying a sweet pickle from the tray in the kitchen. “Here, eat this. You’ll feel better.” She sat on the bed next to him. “It’s not so bad, Yevgeniy. The cat is still alive, and the hair will grow back soon.” His Royal Highness Tarlemagne was still sulking somewhere in the apartment, licking the patches where his fur had been cut away to remove the spilled nail polish. There was still a faint outline on the wooden floor where Papa had scrubbed and scrubbed to remove the bright red lacquer. No scrubbing, of course, would remove the same color from the silk rug: it would remain a memory of Yevgeniy’s disobedience unto the seventy-of-sevens generations, his Papa had declared.

She hugged him, tousled his hair, and then leaned close. “I don’t know if you can go with us, Yevgeniy, without your balloon. Everyone will see us, the seven Abramofskys, with six red balloons, and think: something happened to Yevgeniy. But if there were only five balloons…”

And with that Tante Albertina reached into her pocket to pull out her own balloon. “See? My balloon might also be damaged.” She took the scissors from the sewing basket near the window. “Perhaps someone made a careless mistake while darning socks.” She snipped the balloon in two. “And now there are two people with no balloon, which of course is entirely normal and expected. Now dry your tears and come out when you’re ready. We’ll make a sight, the Seven Abramofskys and Their Five Balloons. No one else will be so clever as us.”

Yevgeniy looked up to his aunt and smiled. It was all going to be good. And there would be piroshkis afterwards, and maybe the sweet angel cookies Mama made for special occasions.

Tante Albertina closed the door behind her. He got up from the bed, slicked down his hair, and went to the door.

Then he turned to the dresser next to Mama’s bed. She always kept her gold filigree watch there, and he’d never had the chance to look at it up close.

Science or Superstition—Ebola and Crowdsourcing Wisdom

I don’t pay much attention to the chatter on the news—I don’t watch the talking heads and don’t follow the conversations and popular topics.

With that said, I see now that there is a enormous number of people who are being convinced that Ebola is some ginormous threat to The American Way of Life, and that hysteria is called for, and that the end is near.

I’m sorry, but are you guys all nuts?

Ebola is a deadly disease, yes. It spreads through human contact and exchange of bodily fluids. It kills about 90% of the people who are infected. It’s bad news.

But it is not a monster of unknown shape.

You get Ebola in limited ways: you must be in contact with a person with Ebola, or in contact with the emissions of a person with Ebola, such as blood or mucus.

You can contain Ebola through some difficult measures—you must be suited up, and your clothing must be carefully and rigorously sanitized, and all infected areas must be sprayed with bleach to kill the virus.

Some extraordinary methods are needed in order to isolate Ebola victims, and some extensive means are required to deal with the clean-up, but it is not a mystery.

It appears that tens of millions of people in America today are being stamped into fear by a pack of talking heads who want you to listen to them so they can be “popular.” The right-wing media is helping with this nonsense, but there are also shouting heads in the middle as well.

Ebola is something we have to deal with. It’s taking its toll in West Africa. We should offer aid and assistance in tamping it down in order that the countries there do not collapse through exhaustion and hysteria, and also in order that we do not see a mutation in the virus that might make it more deadly.

But the craziness being espoused, mostly by the right-wing media and shared by those who are gullible to the fact-free assertions of the right-wing media, needs to stop.

Stop.

Take a breath.

Relax. Slow down. Think about the actual circumstances.

An infected man came to America and died. A nurse treating him in the early chaotic days has been infected.

That’s it.

We’ll treat this and figure out how it all happened.

Stop seeing this as something that has no meaning, or, even more stupidly, seeing this as something plotted by the Evil Government in order to put you in prison camps.

I don’t know whether everyone who’s repeating these stories is insane and truly believes this nonsense they’re spouting, or if they’re just trying to stir up trouble.

But it’s nowhere near as bad as the right-wing media thinks it is.

And then ask yourself this: why is the right wing all fired up about this disease which is manageable through public safety and health measures, when the right wing has been doing its best to destroy the public health system? The right wing won’t allow the Surgeon General to be voted on in the Senate. The right wing cuts funding for public health and safety. The right wing fights against a public health system and public health access.

And now you are listening to the right wing about how to fight Ebola?

Who is crazier, the one who speaks crazy things or the one who believes the crazy things that are spoken?

Why Voting Restrictions Matter

This is for you who keep telling me that there is no difficulty in getting registered because “everyone has ID” and “everyone can get easily register.” You are talking nonsense when you say that. You should educate yourself.

Here’s an example of what the Wisconsin Voter ID restrictions meant in real life. Thank God these restrictions were struck down by the Supreme Court. But tell me, what is accomplished by restricting voting in this way, other than making sure that a large part of the undesirable population can’t vote?

From a friend in Wisconsin:

[Bob] got his WI license after the voter ID law passed (and by the by, DMV hours were cut AT THE SAME TIME as the new voter ID laws were being put in place). So now the DMV hours are 8:30-4:45 M-F, but you can’t get a new DL after 4 pm. So 8:30-4, effectively. Obviously lines are a lot longer because the hours have been dramatically reduced. [Bob] had to go 3 times before he got his DL. Because his birth certificate isn’t good enough for the Wisconsin DMV. The one he’s used to for every job. The one he’s used to get a US passport. The one he used to get federal security clearance. The one that is a pretty standard issue MN birth certificate from the 1980s. That’s not good enough for a Wisconsin drivers license and so not good enough to vote in WI. And he’s a well-educated white dude with involved parents who could confirm that his birth certificate is the only one he’s ever had and not some weird novelty birth certificate. And he has a flexible job. And he’s great at advocating for himself. But it still took him around 12 hours to get all of it straightened out. So even if I were to accept the rhetoric of voter ID requirements, I’m awfully suspicious of the goals of a system that simultaneously starts requiring an ID to vote AND makes getting that ID difficult.

Tell me, what would you do if you worked an ordinary 8-5 job and you tried to register to vote? Or you worked a job that kept you from getting to the DMV three times in order to get registered?

You take it for granted that you’re registered to vote, and that you will never be deprived of your vote, because you, of course, are favored.

But there are millions of people out there who aren’t like you, who don’t look like you, and don’t have the power that you do, who are otherwise ordinary American citizens who are being stripped of their civil rights by the actions of mean-spirited legislators, nearly 100% white Republican men.

Why is that? Why are Republicans doing this, over and over and over? They do it because it keeps them in power, but it keeps them in power because you don’t protest, and you keep voting for them.

If you’re not going to do anything with your own voice, if you’re not going to protest this loss of liberty of your fellow American citizens, if you’re going to hide behid legalisms and prevarications and passive-aggressive beliefs, at least have the integrity to stop rewarding these people with your votes. Stop supporting these people who are stripping Americans of their rights.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you consider yourself a liberal or conservative, a progressive or a libertarian–when you reward this behavior by voting for these people, you are participating in the loss of liberty of your fellow American citizens.