It has been an incredibly challenging and sometimes discouraging year in all parts of the world. Daily news reports tell stories and show pictures of violence, human exploitation, economic stress, rampant hunger, and the environmental crisis before us. Regardless of the form of government, democracy or dictatorship, dialog and negotiation seems to be at a standstill in the places where public policy decisions are made. The craving for power, greed and supremacy seem to be taking the place of compassion and care.
Closer to home, we are aware that the decision-making logjam in the halls of the U.S. Congress and the White House has resulted in disappointment and frustration for many who are committed to advocate for justice and fairness. This is evidenced in a recent Gallup Poll which indicates that the 7 percent approval rating of Congress is at its lowest point in history; coupled with the 38-43 percent rating for the President. The poor economy worldwide is certainly one of the factors at play; however other key issues such as jobs, the federal budget deficit, and the failure of the “super-committee” to reach agreement on deficit reduction contribute to the lack of confidence in our public officials among the American people.
All this cannot help but be hard on the human spirit. We do need hopeful inspiration and courage to turn the tide. At times like this it is it important to remember the words the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared decades ago, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” The good news is that people of many faiths are joining together to raise a unified voice for that which is morally right. What is becoming clear is that we do not have to agree about everything, but we do have a mutual obligation to care for all that is God’s creation.
We are called to be a bold public voice setting our sights toward the common good so that the marginalized are not forgotten. In spite of this discouraging landscape, we stand strong as people of faith committed to ensure that the dignity of each person is realized. We must not weaken our resolve especially as the year turns into an election time that promises to be filled with hotly contested debates. Each one of us can be a voice of inspiration and courage.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. (Roman 15:4-5)
We are inspired by these ancient words and by the thousands of voices speaking out today. Thank you for never giving up. Thank you for continuing the journey. In the New Year, let’s keep working in faithful solidarity to light the flame of hope and kindle the fires of justice. Take courage in knowing that with God nothing is impossible.
M. Linda Jaramillo is executive minister of United Church Of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries.
Hooray for three-day weekends! Every time one of these three-day weekends rolls around, we celebrate having an extra day for getting some overdue tasks done, spending extra time with family or friends, or just getting a little more rest. However, the third day, usually Monday, is really meant for a reason. These Mondays are set aside to acknowledge an historic and significant part of our culture.
For example, last Monday we observed Labor Day. I wonder how much attention we actually gave to the historic intent of Labor Day. In case we might have forgotten, Labor Day was created to support the labor movement in this country and dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
In the midst of this yearly national tribute to workers, public policies are enacted or being considered that contradict this historic value that we claim to hold so dear. During these times of economic stress, the first victims of budget reductions are the very labor force we recognize. Labor unions are blamed for the downturn in our economy while elected officials rush to “protect” the prosperity of those holding the most wealth. Anti-collective bargaining laws are now legislated in at least two states and are being considered in others. In addition, our support for basic workers’ health and safety rights is eroding.
This year, we will observe the 10th anniversary of September 11. We appropriately honor those who died on that tragic day; however, we must also remember the impact on thousands of workers who continue to suffer in the aftermath. We publicly applaud the self-less efforts of rescue workers, both paid and volunteers, but continue to put barriers in their way to needed health and mental health services.
Just recently, Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R. 847), which is intended to “improve health services and provide financial compensation for 9/11 first responders who were exposed to dangerous toxins and are now sick as a result.” However, a condition of receiving services is the requirement that applicants must be screened to ensure that they are not on the FBI terrorist watch list. So, the thousands of courageous workers and volunteers who braved the storm of fire, smoke, and flying debris to save human lives must be questioned about their connection to terrorism? This does not honor the dedicated workers who risked their own lives to save others on September 11.
Workers are still as much the foundation, strength and prosperity of our culture as they were over 100 years ago on the first Labor Day. We must also support the thousands who wait in the unemployment lines; they want to work and contribute to the well-being of our culture. They are not to blame for the economic ills of this country.
So, it makes me curious about why we continue to observe the yearly national tribute we call Labor Day. Is it because we really respect the contributions of our nation’s workers or we hate to give up that three-day weekend?
M. Linda Jaramillo is Executive Minister of Witness for Justice, United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries.
I have vivid memories of that tragic September 11 morning 10 years ago. It was early in the day in my hometown of Portland, Ore. The waking news blaring from my radio seemed like a dream. I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room to turn on the television. Sure enough, there it was. The first plane had blasted its way through the north tower, seemingly a terribly unfortunate failure of the airplane’s radar system that led it off course. Then the second plane was in sight, crashing into the south tour. It became clear that this was no accident. The shock of such a horrible sight had not even set in when we heard the news stories about two other high-jacked planes, one crashing into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.
Were there more? Who was capable of such mean spirited destruction? Little did I know then what would follow.
Every year on September 11, I feel the emotional disbelief and fear that I experienced that morning. However, the events of two days prior to that fateful day are still equally alive in my memory — September 9, 2011.
Our local congregation, Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland, Ore., was offering adult forums on diverse faith traditions. On Sunday, September 9, we welcomed two leaders from the Muslim community to share the key tenets of their faith. We learned about the importance of peace and harmony in their teachings. During our discussion, it became obvious that we shared a mutual understanding of God’s unconditional love for everyone and our responsibility for the common good of humanity. As Christians and Muslims, we agreed to journey together and continue to learn from one another toward deeper solidarity in the midst of our differences.
In the days following September 11, it became clear that all Muslims were being held responsible for the tragic acts of a violent sect of Islamic fanatics whose values and interpretations of the Quran are radically different than the majority of Muslims. Our Muslim friends went into hiding in Portland, just as others did in cities across the nation. They feared going to the grocery store, sending their children to school, or worshipping in the local mosque that had previously been relatively safe. My fear and disbelief was revived as I saw the universal hostility being directed at our neighbors.
I joined a group of Latino and Latina leaders who gathered with neighbors from the Muslim Educational Trust led by Wajdi Said (who continues to be a close friend to this day). We wanted to offer support to a community whose complexion is much like ours. We knew what it was like to be singled out for ridicule and exclusion. We had experienced similar verbal and physical attacks for no other reason other than the color of our skin. We prayed for forgiveness and healing, and pledged to teach one another and our children about our shared understanding of goodness as opposed to evil.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I have seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.” As we approach this 10th anniversary, my prayer is that in our disbelief, we will strive to overcome the fear and hatred that have resulted, for the sake of our children and the purity of their souls. — (Justice & Witness Ministries)
M. Linda Jaramillo is collegium of officers for the United Church of Christ.