Advertisement

Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: faith and social justice

social justiceToday’s 30 Days of Love prompt is to look at the social justice programs of another faith. Initially I thought I’d write about engaged Buddhism again, as many Americans are unfamiliar with it. But when I went to look for social justice images to use in today’s post, I found this one, courtesy of U. S. Catholic. It comes from an article I must have been meant to see, as it’s a topic I often brood over.

Advertisement

The title of the article is “Social justice: What’s tarnishing its good name?” Written by Kristen Hannum, the article notes that despite conservative media’s insistence that social justice is a “code phrases of the religious left who prefer government solutions to human problems,” ‘social justice’ is a constant thread through Catholic doctrine and history.

Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama

Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama

Advertisement

I’ve never understood why people advocate for a more Christian state, on the one hand, but don’t want governmental support for the disadvantaged, on the other. If you can forbid abortion on religious grounds, why can’t you legislate support for the poor? It seems totally illogical to me.

But I understand that faith is belief and not reason, at least for many. Still, it’s good to know that U.S. Catholic magazine agrees with my beliefs: social justice is good religion. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton also agreed: in his latter years, before his tragic and untimely death, he said that he wanted to become as good a Buddhist as possible, in addition to his Catholic monastic calling. He saw no conflict between the two faiths; the Buddha never asked to be worshipped.

Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt can only help bring us closer together, as we recognise that each of our wisdom traditions values helping the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable among us. Making opportunities available to all is the best form of social justice. One the world around us needs far more of.

Advertisement

30 Days of Love: standing shoulder to shoulder

Britt & Soha Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is one very close and dear to me. It asks that we find out more about the Muslim communities living in our towns and cities, the Muslim Americans who work in offices with us, go to school with us and with our children, are ‘us':  America.

This is a picture of ‘us’ — my dear friend Soha, with whom I worked at Oklahoma State University. Soha is from Egypt, but has lived in the US for many years.  Her husband is faculty at OSU, and she is finishing up her doctorate. When Americans talk against Muslims, when the media says incredibly offensive things about Muslims, when politicians posture at the expense of American Muslim citizens, this is the face I hold in my heart as ‘Muslim.’ My dear friend Soha.

Advertisement

Muslim woman attends vigil

photo by John Hotterman

Right after I was married — many many years ago — I moved with my husband half-way around the world to North Africa, to Algeria. Eventually I would be living in the middle of an Algerian neighbourhood in Algiers, my best friend Saliha across the hall. She had 10 living children, 3 still-born. Affianced (as they say in French, one of her two languages) at 13, married at 14, she lived in the almost the same floor plan apartment we did. She had two bedrooms instead of our one, but otherwise the tiny kitchen w/ the two-burner stove was the same. She didn’t have a refrigerator until we left, and sold her ours for a song.

Advertisement

Her concern for my childless state deepened when I tried to explain I was on birth control, as we were newly married. She politely refused to believe me. “No man would let you do that,” she demurred. “But it’s okay — I won’t tell.” She herself had to get her tubes tied secretly, with the birth of her last child. The victim of gestational diabetes, she would die w/ another pregnancy, the doctor told her. “But if my husband knew, he would throw me out and take my children,” she told me. No  wonder she didn’t believe me.

Muslim Sarah Mussa

photo of Sarah Mussa by Ziyah Gafic for Time

Advertisement

This kind of life is light years away from Soha’s, teaching at a prestigious American university. But neither life is familiar to most Americans: not the lives of my Muslim friends in Algiers, or in Saudi Arabia, where I lived for several years. Where my youngest son was born.

Nor here in the US, where Soha’s son & daughter attend good Stillwater schools, and she & her husband are academics much like I was. So many similarities to exclaim over, and the differences fascinating, not frightening.

We miss so very much when we cut ourselves off from difference, fearing it. Fear often leads to hate, which eats at the hater, and may well kill the victim. What if we do everyone a favour, and try to get to know more about the ‘other’ Americans in our diverse country? What if, as Christina Warner, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder notes, we “don’t … wait for discrimination to define our responses. Instead, we can build diverse communities that celebrate our respective traditions now, making our communities safer and more inclusive for the future”…? muslim journeys

Advertisement

In Oklahoma, for example, the Oklahoma Humanities Council is co-sponsoring a series of discussions called “Muslim Journeys: American Stories.” All over the state, groups will come together to learn about Muslims in America, and the vibrant religious & cultural heritage they bring to the American story. Given that all our families at some point journeyed to arrive where we are today, why not welcome the incredible diversity that is America today? How cool would that be? And how much would all of us gain?

Advertisement

30 Days of Love: prisons and opportunity gone missing

jailAmerica loves prisons. “Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000.” So says the Centre for Global Research, at least. I believe them.

Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is that we consider how to better welcome formerly incarcerated Americans into society. Maybe we should look, first, at why we jail so many in the first place.

Advertisement

Too few Americans are aware that private prisons only make money if they’re full. Ergo, there’s pressure to put folks in jail. And too few Americans know that African Americans are jailed at a 6/1 ratio compared to whites. Or that “[f]rom 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people…. and[t]oday, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.” We don’t look very ‘civilised,’ do we?children in prison

Advertisement

In Oklahoma, we especially love to put our women in prison: “there were 127 female prisoners in 2012 for every 100,000 female residents, the highest incarceration rate in the country and up from 122 in 2011.”

And all of this costs us right at $70 BILLION annually. To ruin people’s lives over, quite often, non-violent crimes. Because in many states (see the discussion at 30 Days of Love) men and women with arrest records alone — much less cell time — are automatically eliminated from even interviews for job. And with the lessening of safety nets for their dependents, entire families are condemned, even after sentences are served, to poverty.

Advertisement

I don’t know how to fix this. But I do know that I vote carefully, bringing my engaged Buddhist social conscience into the ballot box on every vote I cast. I don’t vote for men and women — or parties — who make imprisonment a big part of their campaigns. In  Oklahoma, the same bag of marijuana that you can buy legally in Colorado can get you a lengthy prison term. Again, condemning you and your dependents to a life difficult to sustain in health. And I don’t believe in prisons for profit — forcing arrests to make money??

That’s not right. And it certainly isn’t loving.

Advertisement

30 Days of Love: Inclusion

inclusion4Inclusion is a big deal to me (I know — so many things are!). Perhaps because I grew up on the outside, often looking in. Maybe because my family is pretty polyvalent. And maybe because it IS important. Every voice needs to be acknowledged, listened to, and paid respect.

For whatever the reason, when I saw today’s prompt for 30 Days of Love, I could relate: how do we know when we’re included? What makes us FEEL included?

Advertisement

Despite my appearance now — nice middle-aged white woman of privilege :) — I grew up odd kid out. White kid in Việt Nam, or Thailand; new kid over & over; white chick in the Middle East (where only the prostitutes looked like me :) ). I didn’t fit in, and it was obvious. I’ve never forgotten. I actually left university — at least in part — because there wasn’t any literature by my friends: no black or brown or many women writers being taught. I love literature — and did then, as well — but where was Eldridge Cleaver (whom I had to find on my own), or Richard Wright? Where was Maude Meehan or May Sarton?inclusion 2

Advertisement

Then when I applied for my doctorate, there wasn’t a single woman teaching in my area of concentration. So I didn’t go at that time. It wasn’t until there was another woman that I applied. Why would I want to go somewhere no one looked like me? How could they possibly know my life? Get my work?

Next, in my graduate work, I was a ‘returning student.’ Re: older than the rest of the bunch. And when I found my ultimate university job, I wasn’t a ‘real’ academic: I directed a federal grant. Not tenure-track, but administrative and teaching. Never mainstream — always an outlier.

Previous Posts

sick leave, or, big sky mind
Food poisoning is the pits. Actually, I can't think of a publicly permissible word that truly describes the experience. Suffice to say? Horrible. It sneaks up on you, after what seemed like a normal meal, and suddenly you're sicker than you ...

posted 5:16:20pm Apr. 26, 2015 | read full post »

in praise of fathers, or, Happy Birthday, Daddy
Today is my father's birthday. He would be so old: 98. He's been gone more than 20 years, and I still miss him. In my memory, this is how I always see him -- ...

posted 8:42:11pm Apr. 23, 2015 | read full post »

anticipation
Sometimes I think what I love best about vacations is the anticipation. The planning, the tour guides, cruising websites, learning all I ...

posted 5:15:55pm Apr. 21, 2015 | read full post »

poetry as mentor
So by now everyone knows it's National Poetry Month. And ...

posted 3:37:56pm Apr. 18, 2015 | read full post »

what poets do
I'm always trying to explain to people 'why poetry?' But today I found a poem that says it far better than I can, and by one of my favourite poets ~ Lawrence ...

posted 12:22:13pm Apr. 16, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.