Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Required Reading Before Christmas Shopping


Buy gifts for all your friends without supporting sweatshops at this year’s Just Christmas bazaar.

Two thousand-odd years ago when the Three Wise Men showed up bearing the world’s very first Christmas gifts, did Mary, Joseph or the shepherds ask whether the gold-miners had a union, or whether the frankincense and myrrh resin harvesters were given a decent wage and benefits package? Whether they did or not, it’s clear that gift-giving is a tradition worth hundreds of billions of dollars... but concern for justice at Christmas is hardly worth a penny.

But surely Mickey Mouse and his friends love children so much that they make every day of the year special for them, and Christmas time just extra, extra special, right? Uh, no. For instance, according to the U.S.-based National Labour Committee, young people in China are being forced to work 10 to 13 hours days, six or seven days a week, making Disney’s kids books in some of the company’s outsourced sweatshop dungeons, where unionization is as forbidden as going to the ball.

Read it all at

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Kairos

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time [Gr: kairos] will come.”
Mark 13:32-33

For a brave band of women in Bolivia, Christmas Day, 1977, was a kairos moment. Nellie Paniagua, Angelica Flores, Aurora Lora, and Luzmila Penmental witnessed the government murder, imprison, or exile their husbands, all leaders of the tin miner’s union in Bolivia. For them, this suffering was a sign that the time of God’s deliverance, the kairos, was drawing near. And so, they began a hunger strike at the residence of Archbishop Jorge Manrique.

Three days later, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, their children joined them in the hunger strike. When people protested, the mothers responded by inviting adults to come and take the place of their children. Soon nearly 1400 people joined the hunger strike. Tension mounted, and international human rights workers and Church officials tried to negotiate a settlement. At one point, negotiations broke down and some strikers and human rights observers were arrested. The four women then began to refuse water as well as food.

Eventually, the government accepted the demands of the striking women in full, proving amnesty for 19,000 political prisoners and exiles, reinstating jobs for union activists, and granting freedom to all those arrested during the strike as well as the right to organize unions in the future.

The practice of justice, rooted in sacrificial love and subject to prayerful spiritual discernment, is the stance of alert watching appropriate to those waiting for the kairos, God’s saving action in history. The command to stay awake is not a counsel of passivity, but rather a bold assertion that almighty God is the Lord of history, and that God’s reign is a reign of justice.

Against the televangelists and authors of best selling books predicting when Jesus is going to return, Jesus himself says, “you do not know when the time will come.” I suspect that the kairos is a potential within every moment, equidistant from every time and place. It is not subject to calculation, like chronological time, it is not a matter of sooner or later. Nor is it subject to evaluation, like psychological time, a matter of better or worse, more or less interesting. It simply is, and it breaks in upon us as an expression of God’s inscrutable freedom and loving purpose. We prepare for it and we receive it as sheer gift.

Our job is not to predict the kairos. Our job is to get ready for it, to discern the actions appropriate to the times in which we live. Advent is the Church’s way of reminding us that time is not simply a chronological or psychological experience. The Church does not tell time with clocks, but with colors: the liturgical colors of royalty, sacrifice, blood, birth, life, growth, death and resurrection; each season a different practice of reading the signs of the times, reminding us that all of human experience is a potential kairos moment: pregnant with the presence of God.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Just Say "No"

When will the Bush Administration learn that it just needs to say "no" to torture, in any way, shape or form? It is simply unconscionable that President Bush is pushing for an exception to the blanket ban on torture contained in the McCain Amendment overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. Senate. It is immoral under any circumstances for one child of God to torture another child of God. Torture dehumanizes both the victim and the perpetrator. Would you really want your son or daughter to be trained to torture other human beings by the C.I.A.?

Not only is torture immoral - it is simply bad policy. It increases the risk of captured U.S. servicemen and women being subjected to torture and its use generates bad information; a victim of torture will say anything to stop the pain, whether it is true or not. In practicing torture, the U.S. Government has become what it says it hates - a terrorist of the worst order.

I'm sure that Pilate thought torturing and executing Jesus was within the compass of Roman national security interests. Jesus' death and resurrection demonstrates that God has nothing to do with torture and the culture of violence upon which it is built. The Episcopal Diocese of California recently passed a resolution calling upon the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to condemn torture and call upon the U.S. Government to renounce the practice of torture, including the practice of extraordinary rendition (outsourcing torture to other countries), and to compensate victims and their families. It is time for the Church to speak out in solidarity with the victims of torture, whoever they are, and to end our complicity in the justification of torturers.