If you were asked, “What does love motivate you to do?” what would be your answer?
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National Council of Churches
Like millions of others, my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. Her illness has progressed to the point that it is taking a tremendous toll on my father and placing significant pressure on my siblings, especially my sister.
Because mom is the center of our family, her slow descent into dementia has altered our family’s dynamics in many ways. Most obviously, younger members of the family have had to take on many difficult decision-making responsibilities.
Illness plays a prominent role in the Bible including skin and wasting diseases, fevers, hemorrhages, stomach ailments, mental illness, leprosy, plague, and tumors. Sometimes sufferers, particularly those with leprosy, were quarantined. Yet, there are instances of healing and solace throughout scripture. Psalm 23 reminds me that the Lord will be with my mother throughout the travails she experiences. Even though this beautiful psalm gives me comfort, I know things are not likely to change: it is apparent mom will not be restored to full health.
Alzheimer’s unfolds and deepens over the course of years. In a sense, this has permitted us to say goodbye to mom in slow motion. We’ve all adjusted as her capabilities have diminished. At first, it just seemed like the kind of forgetfulness that often comes with aging. Over time, it became apparent she simply couldn’t remember even what she had just eaten. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you know what I’m talking about.
During the some 50 years dad was a pastor in local churches, mom served as an elementary school secretary and kept the three kids in line and on task. She isn’t a public figure or speaker, but she is shrewd and has been our greatest supporter.
Mom has always been extraordinarily generous. Although she and dad had little money for years and years, they always made sure their children and grandchildren were cared for. They felt the best vacations were family vacations, and the best Christmases were celebrated with everybody present.
I remember once, while in my twenties, I was visiting home and attending church with mom and other family members on Sunday morning. The long pew was filled with Winklers. Mom whispered proudly in my ear, “I bought every stitch of clothing on every person in this pew.”
Disorientation troubles the soul. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult for her to be comfortable in large family gatherings. She does much better one-on-one. For me, who does not see her often, it’s easy to be patient when she asks the same questions over and over. On a daily basis, however, that is more challenging.
The wonderful memories we share of countless occasions and events can no longer be recounted with ease. She cannot summon them. In recent years, I attempted to get her to reflect on her own childhood, but that hasn’t worked well. It is said that those with dementia have good days and bad days. I haven’t seen the good days. Soon, she likely won’t be able to recognize me or my children.
I miss the mom who was strong, vibrant and funny. I love the mom I have. I am grateful she knows the love of God.
I participated this week in an event intended to raise awareness in the faith community of the plight of poultry workers. This is an issue that’s been around for many years, but with the rising consumption of chicken in this nation, poultry workers are being required to worker faster than ever in dangerous conditions.
This matters to people of faith because scripture warns us to beware of trampling on the needy and bringing the poor to ruin (Amos 8:4-5). And, since many poultry workers are immigrants, such as Rosa from Guatemala who addressed us, we should remember to treat the alien as well as God treated the Israelites.
The poultry industry is concentrated in the hands of a small number of firms who market their product through dozens of brands. The typical poultry worker makes about $20,000 a year, about the same amount of money one of the CEOs makes in a single day.
Right now, the biggest request from poultry workers is that they be given bathroom breaks. Many of the workers have to wear adult diapers to work because they are not permitted to go to the toilet. One Minnesota poultry plant permits its workers two bathroom breaks per week.
Additionally, the rapid line speed at poultry plants means workers are making the same repetitive motions thousands of times a day, thereby leading to carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling, and, even, paralysis. Typically, poultry plants refer injured workers to doctors and nurses with which they have arrangements thereby helping to maintain a clean safety record. But, as Juanita, who worked for Tyson in North Carolina said, “There are some people with hands so swollen that their gloves don’t fit.”
The 2008 Social Creed of the National Council of Churches supports a family-sustaining wage with equal pay for comparable work, the rights of workers to organize and share in workplace decisions and productivity growth, and protection from dangerous working conditions with time and benefits to enable full family life.
All of us who are not vegetarians are implicated in the systematic mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of workers in poultry plants. We heard of a 17-year old who lost a leg while cleaning a plant machine and another young worker who lost their fingertips in another incident. In each avoidable instance, the worker was fired because, after all, they could no longer perform their jobs.
One small action you can take right now is to sign a petition, http://petition.wncworkerscenter.org/, supporting bathroom breaks at Case Farms in Morganton, NC. Encourage the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, at both the federal and state levels, to carry out inspections of poultry plants.
Among the stated purposes of the National Council of Churches is a desire on the part of the member communions to strive for peace and justice in the social, political and economic order. Here is another example of how we must stand together for the healing of the world.
Nearly 15 years ago, I traveled to Pakistan as part of a religious leaders’ peace delegation in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11. Our purpose was to share the news that not all Christians believed the appropriate response to the attacks on the United States was to wage war on other nations.
We wanted to visit Afghanistan, but by that time American bombs were falling there and it was too dangerous to travel to Kabul. So, one of our actions was to distribute food and blankets in the city of Quetta to Afghan refugees who had fled to Pakistan. Some of those refugees had been living in Pakistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Along the way, went to the historic city of Lahore. While we were checking into our hotel, the manager assured us the city was safe. Thusly comforted, I decided to go on a walk and see some of the sights. Keep in mind, this was at the same time that the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was being held hostage in Pakistan.
Suddenly, a minivan stopped next to me and several men jumped out. My heart sank. One asked if I was on my way to visit Bishop Samuel Azariah.
“Yes,” I nervously replied.
“Please come with us, we were sent to pick you up.”
“How did you find me,” I asked.
“That was easy,” they said. “Everyone pointed us to the tall American.”
Foolishness on my part? Perhaps. Yet, curiously, I mostly felt that countless strangers were looking out for me. I have had rebel bandit guns pointed at me in Nigeria and Israeli weapons trained on me in Ramallah. In both places, Christian hosts stood by me. I have not attempted to live dangerously, but I have also sought to avoid cowering in fear.
I can very well understand how easy it is to succumb to the notion that our Christian faith is under siege and that we must, therefore, strike back or patrol Muslim neighborhoods, secure our borders, or carpet bomb certain parts of the world. It is tempting to circle the wagons, root out enemies, and start firing away.
I cannot imagine attending an Easter sunrise service or picnic where a bomb exploded, 72 people died, and a terrorist organization claims credit for the murders. I do desire for there to be a coordinated, international police effort to capture terrorists and break up their organizations. What I do not want is for the police to utilize torture, disregard legal procedures, or spy on everyone. I believe it is false to claim that it is necessary to do so.
Unfortunately, it is likely that terrorism will continue throughout my lifetime. People of faith must not only continue to speak against terrorism and pray for the victims, we must also continue to work together, undertake self-scrutiny, develop a culture of peace, and work creatively for truth and reconciliation.
This type of work is already underway. The Washington Interreligious Staff Community held its annual retreat on March 30. A full house of Jewish, Christian and Muslim denominations and organizations were represented. Dozens of talented, committed people–diverse in every way–shared about our joint work against racism and poverty and our bipartisan efforts to overcome climate change and mass incarceration.
The National Council of Churches will remain committed to peace, justice, and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. May God be with us.
As I have watched this dispiriting presidential campaign unfold, one of the many things that is depressing is the devotion of the candidates to the use of military force.
The United States has been at war my entire life, either overtly or covertly. That period of time covers a number of major US wars including Vietnam, the first Persian Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Congressional Research Service estimates those wars cost—through 2010, not 2016—just shy of $2 trillion for military operations alone. That excludes costs of veterans benefits, interest on war-related debt, or assistance to allies (Source: Costs of Major U.S. Wars, by Stephen Daggett, Specialist in Defense Policy and Budgets, June 29, 2010, Congressional Research Service).
In fiscal year 2016, our nation is spending more than $800 billion for military defense, veterans affairs, and assistance to allies. Tens of billions of additional dollars each year are spent by taxpayers to service the portion of the vast national debt that is due to military expenses.
We are a militarized nation. Our leaders, almost all of whom are Christian, are militarists and believe might makes right, that we are an exceptional country, and that we must intervene in the affairs of other nations when it suits our interests. We even spy on our allies.
Dr. King stated a year before his assassination, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin—we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
We have not undergone that revolution of values, we are not on the right side of the world revolution, and the giant triplets have conquered us.
No presidential candidate offers a coherent way out of this path to doom and none offers a systematic critique of our plight. There was a day when militarism was a negative word. No longer. Most of the candidates pay obeisance to all things military.
We as a nation are utterly devoted to what theologian Walter Wink referred to as “the myth of redemptive violence.” Essentially, if you hit me then it’s OK for me to hit you back. This worldview is profoundly anti-Jesus.
The United States, which already spends more on the military than most of the world combined, intends over coming years to spend about $1 trillion to rebuild its nuclear arsenal, a new long-range bomber, and more nuclear-powered and armed submarines. We remain constantly in search of enemies.
This year alone, we will spend billions upon billions on a long list of weapons including but not limited to the Joint Strike, Raptor, Eagle, and Super Hornet fighter planes; Osprey, Chinook, Hercules, Apache, and Black Hawk helicopters; nuclear aircraft carriers, Aegis destroyers, littoral combat ships, submarines, and assault ships; medium-range, ballistic, standoff, hellfire, ICBM, and cruise missiles; Aegis, THAAD, Patriot, and PAC-3 missiles; space-based infrared, global positioning, evolved expendable launch, and advanced extremely high frequency systems; tanks, tactical, and amphibious combat vehicles; Predator, Grey Eagle, and Reaper drones. The list goes on and on. This is akin to taking our national wealth and burying it in the ground.
We worship Baal and have erected temples and pillars in his honor all over our land. Our gods are iron and metal and death. We have already been carried away into spiritual exile from our hopes, our dreams, our values, and from the God we profess to love, follow, and obey. We have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. The blood of millions is on our head. The word of the Lord is not known.
Will we repent?
By Tony Kireopoulos
The most pressing, and debated, matter in foreign policy today is the proposed agreement between Iran and its negotiating partners regarding its nuclear program and what most understand as the future of security in the Middle East. The Obama Administration, on behalf of the United States, along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, has agreed to a deal with Iran that would rein in Iran’s nuclear capabilities while financially phasing that country back into the mainstream of the international community.
Despite the promise of a new era represented by this agreement, not all parties see it as a positive development. Among the critics are members of the United States Congress, the endorsement of which would be helpful for this diplomatic achievement to find full acceptance by the American public. While some may attribute this contrary spirit to persistent post-9/11 fearfulness, deep-seated contempt for the Iranian “enemy,” simple belligerence, or just plain animosity toward the president, I wonder if, at its core, this contrariness is fundamentally rooted in a profound lack of trust. But it is not so much about trust in Iran or its government. It is more about trust in ourselves, and in the power of our ideals.
Engagement of any kind includes calculated risk. This includes engagement between nations. As recent history will tell us, the fruits of constructive engagement are plentiful and rewarding, while the costs of not engaging constructively are high and demoralizing.
When President Nixon engaged China, we trusted that our economic and moral principles were right, and that economic interaction would lead, not only to increased wealth and productivity, but also to positive change in China’s closed society. Certainly we could have continued on the path of estrangement based on past historic differences, but instead we opted to be bold and move ahead toward a brighter future. Yes, social change in China has moved more slowly than economic change, but would we trade where we are today for where we were before the Nixon visit?
When President Reagan engaged the Soviet Union, we trusted that our political and philosophical principles were right, and that political interaction would lead, not only to an enhanced position for the United States in the world, but also to the loosening of the totalitarian grip on the societies behind the Iron Curtain. Yes, we held the advantage in terms of military capacity to back up our outstretched hand, but we also had the courage to dream of a world not constrained by Cold War rivalry and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. Despite the abuses by the Russian political and economic elite over the last several years, would we want to go back to the time before perestroika and glastnost?
At the other end of the spectrum, we have seen the results when we yield to lesser instincts and fail to conceive of an unprecedented vision and move boldly and courageously toward it. After 9/11, President Bush was right to pursue the perpetrators from Al Qaeda into Afghanistan to bring them to justice. But when the pursuit turned to the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq, we traded a broad vision for what engagement with the region could be for a military action for which we are still paying a huge human and financial price. Instead of trusting that our principles were right and engaging the region based on these principles, we squandered the goodwill we enjoyed there (and everywhere) in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and lost the opportunity to reap the fruits of engagement by fostering real change and building a more lasting peace. Given what we know today, wouldn’t we want a do-over when it comes to Iraq?
The agreement with Iran offers us an opportunity to make a change for the better. Should we therefore not trust in ourselves, and in the power of our ideals, and instead of perpetuating enmity, “pursue what makes for peace and mutual up-building” (Romans 14:19) with the hope that, led by its young and vibrant society, Iran will change? We would still retain the ability to verify compliance by the Iranian regime, and the obvious threat of economic isolation and superior firepower should it not work out. But still, isn’t a vision of a better world worth the chance?
By Tony Kireopoulos
A symbol is important. It represents what we believe, and it drives us to action in the name of that belief. It also does more than that: in the original sense of the word, a symbol makes the subject of that belief a present reality in the hearts and minds of those who look to it for meaning.
I’ve been thinking about this since the debate over the Confederate flag began after the shootings at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston. Contrary to those who claim its protection as free speech under the First Amendment, many voices have called for its removal from state houses and store shelves; many others have called for a subsequent debate of the race issues underlying the situation. I myself at first wondered about the effectiveness of pulling the flag from public view; to me, it initially seemed to be a relatively minor action compared to the gravity of what is happening in our country in terms of race these days. And yet, if I think about the Confederate flag as a symbol – not just one representing the South, but one making the reality of racism, intolerance and oppression present in the hearts and minds of many who fly it – I find myself also advocating for its removal.
Yes, in the historical sense, the Confederate flag hearkens back to another place and time, and serves as a reminder of a war fought a century-and-a-half ago in which thousands died proudly in its shadow. But in the psychological and cultural and even religious sense, it is more meaningful – and more dangerous – than that. For among the realities the Confederate flag makes present is the sinful legacy of slavery, rape, lynching, torture, segregation and Jim Crow that, after generations of nurturing in that same shadow, enabled an angry young man to kill 9 people engaged in bible study and prayer.
It is sadly ironic that these killings took place beneath another symbol. When we see pictures of Mother Emmanuel Church, we see a bright white façade emblazoned with a large cross – the cross of Christ – the Christian symbol of love, sacrifice, forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation. Under this symbol, the victims welcomed the young man into their midst in a gesture of loving hospitality; under it, they died as martyrs, sacrificing their lives as they lived out their faith; under it, the families forgave their killer; under it, the community began a process of reconciliation; under it, the soul of the nation felt the saving grace that comes from such a witness of love. Indeed, the symbol of the cross has brought the reality of divine love into our midst, even in the context of this tragedy.
I suppose it is unfair to compare the symbol of the cross to the symbol of the Confederate flag. But when a young man who wrapped himself in the Confederate flag killed those who lived by the cross, it’s hard not to do so. And now that we’ve had several church burnings across the South in the weeks since the shooting, knowing that so much of the violence done over the last 150 years under the banner of the Confederate flag was accompanied by the burning of a cross – certainly the misuse of a symbol if there ever was one – it is time to question the meaning of the symbol that has fostered such hatred and has inspired so much terror.
This is why we have to come to terms with the power and function of symbols, in church and in society. And this is why the Confederate flag must come down.
Serving as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ in the public square since 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) brings together 38 member communions and more than 35 million Christians in a common expression of God’s love and promise of unity.
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