Labor Day

Labor Day was established in 1894 by President Grover Cleveland as a concession to the labor movement after he used Federal troops to end a strike by railroad workers which resulted in 30 deaths and $80 million in property damage.

My dad, a tool and dye maker, was against unions. He ran a just shop and later worked for one. His workers could live on their wages and there was a respect for their work and their opinions. They didn’t need a union. But Dad’s situation was unique. Whenever people who are willing to work for a living are deprived of a living wage and benefits or when their work places are so neglected as to result in unsafe conditions for the workers, they should have the right to unite with their fellow-workers in order to exert pressure on employers for change.

I am proud that my dad was a just man. He was right in his opinion considering his situation. But, while his workers may not have needed a union in their situation, the unions could have used their voices…even to speak to the fact that shops can be fair and just and still flourish.

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Living in the Wild, Wild West

Bernie and I just returned from a trip to the west and southwest. We toured North Dakota first enjoying visiting Lewis and Clark historic sites and learning about our plains Indians and the slaughtering of the buffalo. We took a paddle-boat ride on the Missouri River and enjoyed the Medora Musical. Then we headed down to Deadwood SD to experience the shoot out on the streets for which the town is famous before going on to visit our son and family in Colorado.

Before the cowboys showed up for their confrontation we were entertained by Calamity Jane who told of her many experiences with Bill, ie. Buffalo Bill Cody. Later we would witness the arrest and trial of the guy who shot him. But Calamity’ job was to warm us up, to get us in the mindset of the wild, wild west. She did a great job telling stories with her folksy drawl and poking fun at people in the crowd.

While she spoke, I could see the cowboys begin to gather on the street. At one point, a man who later became the judge at the trial came forward to explain a little bit about what was about to happen. “These guns we use don’t have real bullets in them,” he said. “We fill them with puffed rice and puffed oats which you know are always shot from guns.”

The battle began with some kind of cowboy insult and the guy insulted chose a gun to settle his dispute with the offender. As things got tense, I found myself getting strangely afraid. I don’t mean spooked like when watching a scary movie. I mean fearful with my heart pounding and scary thoughts were going through my head. This would be a perfect opportunity for someone to cause real-life harm, I thought. They only needed to get hold of one of those guns and put real bullets into it. Or someone could shoot someone at the same time as this play acting was going on and people would think the killing was part of the show. I tried to shake the thoughts but I wasn’t totally relieved until it was over and the dead man was carried off on a stretcher. Off in the distance, I saw him rise again.

What is happening to me? It seems that lately thoughts of danger are lurking somewhere in the corners of my mind. I am afraid of guns. Hand guns. I was not afraid when I was a child. Getting lost, perhaps, but never of getting shot. Except in the movies, I never saw a gun until I was an adult and Bernie took up hunting. I still have not touched one.

I know there are people mentally ill or known criminals walking around with guns, people who could buy their guns without any background check. I know there are people walking around with guns who have never been trained to use them. I know there are guns in people’s houses already loaded waiting to be discovered by some curious child. I know that when people come out showing guns you can’t tell the difference between those who mean to harm and those who mean to help. This is the world I am living in right now. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one iota.

I feel like I am living in the wild, wild west.

 

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Return to Liberation Theology

Back when I went to school for my religious studies degree, liberation theology was a new phenomenon. One could have gotten a major in just that. In the April 2015 issue of Sojourners, Emilie Teresa Smith writes about it in her article, “Coming in From the Cold”. She quotes Jon Sobrino Laughs in defining liberation theology: “Liberation theology is a way of thinking about how a Christian must live-in active, engaging struggle for the flourishing of all life. Liberation is the primary movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those baptized into the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ to live this out, immediately and urgently.”

I can still remember stories of those who died in central America because they took to heart liberation theology’s approach to the scriptures. I especially remember Bishop Oscar Romero killed by government assassins during the Eucharist for speaking out against the injustice toward the poor of El Salvador. Jean Donovan, along with three other women, was murdered for helping the poor in the same country. The homeless shelter where I briefly served in St. Cloud MN was named in her memory. When Bernie and I were in Guatemala in the 90’s, we visited the village of Santiago Antitlan and were taken on a tour of the church where Fr. Stanley Rother was murdered. In the room where he was shot, we saw his picture and candles were lit to honor the priest the people believed to be a saint.

What I did not realize is that these martyrs were not honored by the Church they had given their lives in service. Those I mentioned above and many others who died “were left off the list of nearly 500 saints proclaimed by Pope John Paul II,” Smith says. “Additionally, liberal theologians were disowned and prevented from writing.” This was done under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. I can still remember listening to the radio announcement that Ratzinger had been chosen. It was a turning point for me and my relationship with the Catholic Church.

Smith suggests that perhaps with the arrival of Pope Francis “a fresh wind is blowing.” There is no doubt in my mind that something has changed. Many of those ignored by the Church are now on the list for sainthood. And Francis statements in support of justice and preferential treatment of the poor are echoed throughout the world.

I am one who believes that to be Christian is to live as Jesus did in the way he healed the sick, cared for the poor, and comforted the grieving. I am grateful for this important shift in the Church that claims to be the messenger of Christ on earth.

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Muslim Faith in Central Minnesota

I am continuing to read and enjoy Hudda Ibrahim’s book, From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis. This morning I am reading Hudda describing the beliefs and practices of the Muslim faith as practiced by Somalis. I am attracted to a number of thing that I would like to share. Some practices remind me of my own Christian traditions. Here are a few:

The Arabic word Islam means submission to the will of God and derives from the word islama which means to surrender. I love this. It reminds me that Jesus once spoke these words to the Father: “Not my will but thine be done” and he admonished his followers to always do what God wants of them. In this sense, anyone who chooses to do the will of God is a Muslim at heart.

Salah is the practice of praying five times a day. When I was staying in the Palestinian district in Israel, Muslim prayers were sung five times each day over a loud speaker for all to hear. A Christian woman I was with said, “Isn’t that wonderful, to be reminded five times each day to turn our thoughts and hearts to God in prayer.” She was not deterred by the fact that the prayers were not Christian nor were they spoken in her language. She just jumped in and prayed her own prayers. There is a history of regular daily prayers in the early church. Some Christians may remember the angelus bells that still ring from churches around the world. I recall that there were specific prayers associated with these moments of reminder to pray. Farmers in their fields would stop and pray in gratitude to God for His abundance. The Brevary is still read by priests and other Christians throughout the world: psalm readings and prayers read at specific times throughout the days of the year. Hudda said that in this country, Muslims sometimes use their I-phones to remind them to pray. What a great idea!

Zakat is the tradition of paying alms. She writes: “Only those who have been bestowed by wealth should pay alms to the poor. According to eminent Muslim scholars in St. Cloud, the payment of Zakat multiplies one’s wealth. In Islam, wealth hoarding is prohibited.” This last statement really struck me. It speaks of a special responsibility to be generous with the gifts God has provided.

Sawm is fasting and Muslims around the world fast during the whole month of Ramadan. I admire my Muslim friends and family who fast during Ramadan.They go far beyond what I have experienced as a Catholic. Nevertheless, the purposes for fasting as a religious practice are similar: total devotion to God, an appreciation of the gifts He has given and to develop a sense of compassion for those that have less than we do.

Wudu is ritual cleansing done before prayers. Similar Christian practices would include blessing oneself with holy water when entering a church and ritual washing during the celebration of the Eucharist in some churches. Hudda mentioned that Muslims have had to adapt to their particular situations in schools or work places. My feeling is that we can at least try to accommodate them wherever practical.

Muslim women sometimes wear a Hijab, the traditional head covering. They do so for modesty and for religious reasons. Christians often like to wear crosses and Jewish men may wear a yarmulka. We are used to seeing priests and ministers, monks and nuns wearing garb that signifies their devotion. I think it is a beautiful thing when people are not afraid to show their devotion to God in this non-intrusive manner.

Some people might say that for Muslims to wear their special garb or to stop and pray during their work days is pushing religion on others. When I see Christians wear crosses or bow their heads to say grace before a meal in a public restaurant, I don’t in any way feel they are pushing religion on anyone. I enjoy watching people express their faith in different ways. I especially like it when devotion is followed by love and compassion for others. It is this common outcome that makes us one in Spirit.

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Somalis Coming to America

My spirituality book club is reading From Somalia to Snow by Hudda Ibrahim, a faculty member at St. Cloud Tech, is a Somali immigrant, here since 2004. We are excited to have Hudda join us when we get together to discuss the book.

I want to share one small passage this morning because it expresses, I believe, the plight of any immigrant coming to America. Those of us born and growing up here take for granted the comfort we feel walking about and the ease of maneuvering our systems. Hudda shares the words of a Somali man who came to this country in 2014 that captures what our ancestors must have felt coming here:

“No newcomer will be able to navigate American life without any support from their own community. When you are new to a place, you don’t speak English, and (if) you don’t have genuine support, your transition will be ineffective. You feel like you are thrown out of a plane with a parachute into the desert. You have no water, food, or home. All you do is wander around, not knowing which direction you are heading. You feel lost and confused. You feel weak and vulnerable.”

For these new people, connecting with others who not only know their language but understand their culture and their needs is vital. I have had the experience of being in another country not knowing the language. My biggest fear was to be left alone without the assist of someone who could represent me and express my needs. The help the Somalis are getting in St. Cloud is first of all from their own Somali people, but I feel gratitude to the St. Cloud citizens for working to welcome them. It takes a special effort to open the doors to employment and reach out to assist them in working with systems while they work on learning the language and familiarizing themselves with the American culture.

Hudda goes on to share barriers and some of the negative experiences that many Somalis are experiencing, but the large influx says to me that there is a more welcoming spirit than not. I think of the coming of my German and Polish ancestors over a hundred years ago. I am grateful that they found a place  here and were able to settle in. I hope others can remember that here in this place, unless you are one of the original people, you are an immigrant. We need to treat immigrants the way we ourselves would want to be treated.

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No More Labeling People for Me

I am going to try to drop labels altogether, even when people like to claim them for themselves. The ones that keep me befuddled are the political ones, especially liberal and conservative. I am considered a liberal but at times I get bucky about the label. I don’t blindly follow every leader that calls themselves liberal. Nor do I resist every conservative idea, especially when I think the idea has its roots in compassion. I understand the idea that well-meaning people can have different ways to approach a problem. I struggle when either conservatives or liberals deny the existence of problems however.

However you interpret the above or whatever your opinion of me, I will state my main point again: I am going to try to drop labels. Instead of saying a cousin is a conservative, I might say they hold some conservative views. Rather than say a friend is a liberal, I might say that in my sharing with them their views appear to be more in alignment with liberal thinking. Wow! I might find myself getting terribly wordy and people might stop hanging around me. But I want to open my heart and affirm that people are unique human beings who think and feel many different things.

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It Is All An Illusion…Unless It Is Not

Many of the books on spirituality that I read will use the word “illusion” when talking about life, especially those that deal with eastern thought. I have to admit that early on, when I would come across this word, I was baffled. It was as if the gurus that wrote these books were denying my very existence upon this earth. Crazy, I thought. What was crazy was the way I was interpreting what they were saying.

I came across it this morning again and thought I would speak to “Illusion” as I have come to understand it.

Any thought I have of the future is an illusion, that is, it is only a thought and has nothing to do with reality.  The only reality is whatever unfolds in the future as it happens, that is when it becomes present. So any thoughts that I have about the future such as fear of how a person will react to something I have done or how an event will turn out are simply thoughts. Sanity is knowing this and refraining from doing it.

Any thought I have of the past is an illusion, that is, where it was once a reality it in now only a memory, a thought. When I think of the past I often hang judgment onto my thoughts. I assume things like what other people were thinking at the time. Of course, I can’t really know that because I can’t get into the mind of another person. Sometimes I think that their intentions or thoughts were negative toward me and that leads to a resentment on my part…anger about an illusion. Sanity is knowing this and refraining from doing it.

Any thought I have that I am better or less than another person is an illusion. My standing in the world is something I know nothing about. I know zero about the goodness or badness of another person. I don’t even have a handle on my own goodness or badness. Measuring sticks based on class, wealth, family origin, health, fame or success are meaningless because they are basically superficial…they don’t get into the reality of a person. I have learned over the years to drop these measuring methods and just accept that we are all equal and my faith would add, “In God’s eyes.” Sanity is knowing this and refraining from setting myself apart from others by seeing myself as less or more.

Any thought that I have that I am separate and alone is an illusion. My behaviors affect others whether I realize it or not. Their behaviors affect me. We are all upon this earth interconnected. This is true whether speaking of the people I encounter each day or folks across the world. It is true whether I am talking about folks I really like or those I find majorly irritating. Sanity is knowing this and taking responsibility for my actions.

If all of the above is an illusion, then what is left to be called “real”? Here and now, this very moment is real. These words flying across my page as I think them – this is real. My husband is at this moment taking a shower and in a while will emerge and go onto something else. I will finish this post and move on as well. Then another moment will be real, while I am in it.

Is this crazy thought to you? Well, it used to be for me, too, but I am starting to get the hang of it. I have brief moments throughout my day when I snap into awareness of the moment. When that happens, the world around me gets “real”. The greens of the fauna show their contrast more brilliantly, the birds’ songs and the cows moos and that doodle-do of that one rooster down the road suddenly scoop me up by their chatter. I become aware of the wind, its direction, its temperature, its moisture and the aromas it carries wafting up my nose. I am here. This is sanity. This is real.

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