Mourning, and yet…

It has been rough week. It’s been a week of mourning. It has been a week of mourning with Miriam, all the Cabanas family and friends, and our congregation over Ernie’s sudden death. Just a few days ago Miriam and Ernie hugged me on their way out of church after our worship service, all smiles and energy. They are one of the sweetest, most affectionate couples I’ve ever known. I can’t help but be lifted up and encouraged by the love they share and the manner in which they share it. I will greatly miss Ernie’s hopeful smile and jubilant approach toward life. It has been a week of mourning with the nation over yet another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in D.C. Mourning our society’s lack of good understanding of – and care for – those who suffer from mental illness. Mourning our inability – as a nation, as a congregation, even as individuals – to even so much as have a conversation about the role guns play in our society and in these deaths that keep mounting up. It has been a week of mourning with the region over yet another shooting in a Chicago park. No deaths reported, but 13 people were injured, including a 3 year old boy shot in the jaw who is in critical condition. Enough! How will we as individuals, as families, as a congregation respond to this scourge in our streets? When will enough people, enough children, be shot to make us stand up and say, Enough! Our fascination with guns is literally killing us! It has been a week of mourning for the continued and continuing assassination of the character of those in our midst who need help. Who, despite all their efforts, can’t feed their children or themselves. They are not “lazy” or “greedy” or “desiring dependency”. They are people. People like me. People like you. They just happen to be people who need a little help putting food on their table. The honest truth is we all need help sometimes and we all need each other. We’re all dependent upon the work, the blood, the sweat of others. Yet we demonize hungry and poor people for being hungry and poor. Even more baffling, yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives, voted 217-210 to cut SNAP by $39 billion over the next ten years, thereby declaring they want even more people – nearly 4 million more people – to be hungry and they want 210,000 children to be without school lunches. As Rev. David Beckmann says, picking on the poorest among us is unacceptable, especially for a country that prides itself on a strong moral grounding. It has been a rough week. It has been a week of mourning. I am angry and I am sad. And yet… And yet, I love and strive to serve the God who declares that spite and hate and violence and despair and even death do not have the last word in the world. Rather that last word belongs to God as revealed in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, and that word is grace. That word is love. That word is life. And it is offered to all. And yet, I serve a congregation at which this past Sunday our Lead Pastor, the Rev. Dr. James Galbreath, declared from the pulpit as the sermon that Woodridge UMC’s altar is for all. All three of our congregation’s clergy are united in this: Pastor Jim, Deacon Beth, and me. All three of us have signed the Altar for All statement “committing to fulfill our vow to ministry by marrying or blessing couples regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression.” And this gives me hope in the midst of my sadness and anger. Further, we presented our position in what I believe was an honest and faithful way – from a pastoral standpoint rather than a dogmatic one and acknowledging that not every member of our church agrees with us. We are open for conversation.  And that gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. You can sign the Altar for All statement too. There is provision for clergy and laity. Or you can continue to be in conversation with us about this.  And this gives me hope in the midst of sadness and anger. I am convinced that God as revealed in Jesus is the God of “and yet…” So that’s where I want to be too; in the midst of the “and yet…”

 

IL Forum to Combat Human Trafficking

I was quite encouraged by the crowd present for Monday’s Illinois Forum to Combat Human Trafficking. There were several hundred people there of diverse ages and races. The speakers were passionate and informative. Opportunities to take action to combat trafficking were offered, actions that could be taken right then and there.

International Justice Mission was the main sponsor of the event, in partnership with five Chicago-based anti-trafficking organizations: Traffick Free, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Salvation Army PROMISE Initiative, STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking, and The Dreamcatcher Foundation. Representatives from each were present to talk about the work they are doing.

So the forum was very well done. I really don’t know how it could have been better. I am proud to say that of the six forum sponsors, my church has partnered with five of them! (Dreamcatchers is the only one we haven’t connected with…yet!)

By far the most powerful part of the evening was hearing Amanda’s story.

When she was 15, Amanda was trafficked into the Chicago-area sex trade. She was held captive and abused for over two years. Hearing her describe the manner and frequency with which she was abused was truly gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. Her story is a stark and horrific reminder that modern-day slavery is all too real and all too local.

But Amanda’s story also reminds us that there is hope in the midst of this ugly evil. Amanda eventually escaped her captors. She is receiving care for the physical, sexual and emotional trauma she endured. And she is not remaining silent. Working with Dreamcatchers, Amanda is bravely telling her story, shining a light in some very dark places, inspiring people to join (or continue) the fight against human trafficking.

Ready to act?

Here (again) is a simple way to make a difference: tell your members of Congress to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). This legislation authorizes assistance programs for victims, establishes key components of the U.S. government’s efforts to stop trafficking, including the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Passing the TVPRA will extend this law for another three years.

All you have to do is click here. Or here. Or here. Just pick one and raise your voice. Together we can demonstrate to our policy-makers that their constituents care about ending human trafficking at home and around the world.

One thing did disturb me though. If I understood him correctly, U.S. Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), the Keynote Speaker at the Forum, said that the TVPRA likely will end up on a calendar of bills that are non-controversial.

Which makes sense, right? Who could possibly be for human trafficking?!?

So far, so good. Here’s the disturbing part: Rep. Roskam also said that funding for TVPRA will be hard to come by. It will have to fight for very limited funds just like every other bill. It sounded to me like Rep. Roskam doesn’t expect to find that funding. In fact, it even sounded to me like he didn’t think it should be funded.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about Rep. Roskam. I don’t live in his district so I haven’t encountered him or paid attention to him before. I do know he spoke passionately in support of IJM and in encouraging everyone at the Forum to engage in the fight against modern-day slavery. But if I heard and understood him correctly, my serious question is this:

What does it mean to be in favor of passing TVPRA but not in favor of funding it?

Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe I misunderstood. I hope so. Because that seems to me like a distinction without meaning. It seems to me that the only way to truly be in favor of TVPRA is to be in favor of funding it. Maybe we need to add a line about funding to those petitions.

It does no good to reauthorize the act without also funding it.