A Great Nation

This past March the students and I went on a trip to Washington, D.C. on a seminar by the General Board of Church and Society on Human Trafficking.  There were so many things that struck us at the time, both the things that were disillusioning like walking into the Senate chamber and only 3 Senators being in there and the things that were truly moving like many of the war memorials that we saw.

The thing that was most hard for us to understand was how our houses of Congress work now.  I had never been on a tour of the Capitol building before and it was really neat to see the sculptures and history.  It was really cool going under the ground in the little cars made by Walt Disney.  It was amazing that our Senator’s office squeezed us in under short notice and that we got such a great tour.

It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen to witness an empty room with three Senators going back and forth over air quality and asthma and  these Senators primarily talking to the camera because there wasn’t hardly anyone else in there to hear them.  I understand what the aid said that these days our Congress people get briefed in the mornings and evenings and the transcripts are given to them and they are pretty much told how to vote in their briefings.  I also understood when he said that today our Congress people have to work hard with their constituencies taking meetings and working on those things during the day so that they can get re-elected.  I get that getting to that place is not easy and I’m sure it takes a lot of money and support and you’ve got to keep the people that give you those happy.  I get that.

What I don’t get is why we keep letting this broken system survive without all saying, “Enough.”  This is ridiculous.  I’ve heard most of my life that you’ve got to work in the system to change the system and I get that.  You’ve got to know what you’re dealing with and sometimes be able to speak the language so that change can happen.  But we are also called to be in the world and not of it.  We can be in the system and understand the system, but we don’t have to be one of the people sucked into it and trying to make it survive without glance at justice or mercy or ethics or even some good ole character and integrity.

I’m not talking about pointing fingers and blaming this group or that group or this person or that person for all of our problems.  I’m not talking about demonizing some of our fellow Americans even if we may completely disagree with them and think x, y, z about them.  The bottom line is that we are all in this TOGETHER.  We don’t need to waste our time trying to pit people against one another.  We don’t need to waste our time blaming all of our problems big and small on a select party or group or body.  We need to work at solutions, asking the right questions, having a dialogue with one another, figuring out ways that we can live it out with or without the support of the powers that be.

I realize that power is a precarious thing and I know that nothing is ever “that” simple, but I would love to see leaders that lead.  Not just when it’s popular.  Not just the party line.  (Either party.)  Not just what you’re told.  But what you think.  What you have discerned.  What you have wrestled with.

I know that Washington is not just a movie – it’s not just Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The American President, Air Force One, or even the President’s speech in Independence Day.  But we’ve got to do something here.  In this nation that seems more and more divided.  In a place where unemployment is growing and I have more and more students graduating without finding jobs and more and more coming in barely making it through on loans and what little they can make on part-time jobs and not even enough money for raman noodles.

The thing that most moved me in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial.  Reading those words on either side, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address, and the face of a Congress that even then was working on a budget – was a powerful contrast.  There’s no way we’re more divided now than we were then and yet the words of Lincoln ring out.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

We may not be a nation warring with each other but it is time to bind up the wounds of our people.  When it is clear that many of our children are going hungry.  Many parents are wondering how to provide.  Our churches and organizations that are working to clothe and feed and help educate and give shelter, have more than enough work to last a lifetime and the numbers are doubling and tripling and growing by leaps and bounds.  Do I think all of the responsibility lies in Washington?  No.  Do I think it all depends on a President to shape the course?  No.  But I think it’s a start.  There are unsung heroes all around and I know that God’s people are faithful and that the words of Micah to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God are words that many are living by not by just words but with their lives.

When I think about that nation that I believe in, this crazy idea of America, of freedom, of representation by the people for the people, I don’t think of trillions of dollars spent on defense.  I don’t think about loop holes or pork barrel spending or people after their own wealth or power.  I don’t think of people wasting time talking to the media or to the rich and wealthy in their districts.  I think about the men and women who have fought to make this freedom a reality.  I think of those who live their lives every day with grace and mercy and selfless service.  Not people that are going to cram an ideology or there own culture onto someone else.

I pray for people to step up in conscience and discernment.  I pray for people that will say, “Enough.”  I pray for people who go back to their roots of what this country was founded upon, of what truly makes us a great nation – not a superpower, but a great nation that has character and respect.  I pray for the people hanging in the balance of some of these programs and spending and I pray that we as faith communities step up and see how we can reach out across our communities and lead the way.  I pray that we will open ourselves up to the One who knows all of our needs and who can direct our course, to the One who doesn’t just bless America, but seeks to be in community and relationship with the whole world.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The Speech on The American President

What would “A Great Nation” look like to you?  What do we as a church do to step up ready to work and to grow and to fight in this battle for justice and mercy?  (Yes, I know I used the word – “fight” – because at this point I feel like we’ve got to dig in and take action no matter what the opposition or what the cop out.)

What Makes for Peace

One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations.  I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face.  It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.

While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue.  We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile.  Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church.  He does and we need people like him.  Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill.  Violence does not solve violence.  I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc.  When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well.  It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.

I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened.  I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class.  In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident.  By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall.  I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom.  That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television.  I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger.  I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives.  We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway.  I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.

Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day.  Many of them were between 8 and13 or so.  Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much.  I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  It was the first bit of big news I actually remember.  When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be.  Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing?  Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done?  What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers?  What did their friends say?

Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity.  I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed.  As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi.  When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored.  We, the United States, finally got him.  All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure.  Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over.  I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news.  I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military.  I’m not speaking at all against any of that.  We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not.  We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11.  We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel.  We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.

But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this.  As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook.  There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true.  Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc.  But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be.  It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.

Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix.  The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  They were participating in the discussion.  They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up.  I was sitting back.  I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about.  But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross.  This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It’s hard to argue with that.  It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings.  You can’t make that statement easy.   As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate.  I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.

What makes for peace?  Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace?  Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace?  Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace?  Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace?  Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace?  If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.

And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope.  I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst.  To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see.  It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.

I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there.  I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love.  I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love.  I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love.  I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey.  My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Taking Your Own Advice Part 1

So do you ever take your own advice?  Part of me thinks that preachers are probably more guilty of not taking their own advice than just about anybody.  Maybe someone beats us out…but even the most obvious of examples – therapists, teachers, politicians – still probably do a better job than we do.

I try very hard not to ever say who I am voting for.  You may disagree but I think that’s a personal thing and not something that should be blasted from the pulpit.  There’s also perhaps a hesitation on my part because I don’t feel like debating my beliefs with everyone that could have a problem with them.  I vote both ways.  Nope, I am not one of those people that just checks the straight party line button at the beginning of the ballot and even for that, some of you are scratching your heads and thinking what’s wrong with me.

Now by saying that, I am not saying that politics don’t enter my sermons more often than not.  I just can’t seem to help it and I probably should apologize both to the congregations in this district and to my students because I’m sure they get tired of hearing about issues of human trafficking, hunger, relief for families, homelessness and legislation around that, and other stuff that I just can’t not say something about.  So if you ask me if my sermons are political, I wouldn’t want to say yes because I’m not saying “Vote for ????” but I don’t think that we as Christians can just sit on the sidelines on all of these things either.

I know, I know.  I can hear the give to Caesar, what is Caesar’s saying in the back of my head or the much misused “the poor are always with us.”  Mike actually created a political add 2 years ago before the last presidential election when the Caesar saying came up in the lectionary.  Here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aanw_AUw1vc

 Thankfully he found it.  You would not believe how many crazy things pop up when you youtube Jesus political ad.  It was pretty much just talking about how anything can be misconstrued and used for “the other side” in this crazy time of awful political ads.

But see that’s the thing.  As much as I want people to vote and I ask my students if they’ve done their absentee ballots or if they’re going home to vote and I dragged my sick self to the polls yesterday, there’s part of me that was just overwhelmed by all the sheer negative gunk that has been happening.  There’s part of me that doesn’t know who to vote for because the cynical side of me says it doesn’t matter because as soon as they get to Washington they’re all going to be the same anyway.  No one wants to work with the other.  Nobody seems to care that lives are being lost not just at war but right here with jobs being lost and people not able to put food on the table.  It’s just so incredibly frustrating.

I’d like to think if we all banded together and held all of our representatives accountable to putting some of these power things aside and actually moving forward on some of the urgent issues of our country then we could make something happen.  But, I know that we (us regular folk) wouldn’t agree on what those are either.  It’s hard to make anything work when people are so polarized.

But I can’t spout off to people that we have to vote – that men and women have fought for our right to vote, that many of us couldn’t have voted 100 years ago, that we can’t just sit back and say we don’t like it and yet do nothing to change it – and not vote.  So I did.  Did all of “my” folks get elected?  Maybe not.  But do I think we need to pray for the ones that did?  Heck yes I do.  Because no matter if “our” people got elected or not – they need to all be “our” people and in our prayers.  Because we need some leaders with wisdom and integrity and passion to lead the way.  We can’t just sit around saying how awful everything is and demonizing people without honestly and urgently being in prayer for our world, our nation, our state, our communities – our leaders.

Nobody ever wins.  One “side” may “win” this year but then a couple years down the road it will flip and over and over again.  Politics is politics and the cycle continues but we as the church cannot keep sitting back and let our representatives duke it out in Washington while we just sit back home and go about our day to day.  We have got to be involved.  We’ve got to be advocates for the least of these.  We’ve got to not just protest and rally and yell at each other, but actually have dialogue with each other.  Let’s face it – we may not always change each others minds, but at least as we talk about it we can say – “Hey, so and so isn’t a complete moron, and they believe in this person, or issue, or cause…maybe I can’t or shouldn’t make blanket stereotypical statements about them.”

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe I just want something different.  Maybe I’m just sick of it from both “sides.”  At a campus ministers meeting last week we were talking about this and how people want to use their faith to defend why they vote a certain way.  One person told about a t-shirt slogan that she has that says, “Jesus loves all of us, but I’m his favorite.”  Jesus loves each of us, but I’m his favorite.  FYI – beep, beep, beep – Public Service Announcement here – There’s no political party that’s his favorite.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t exercise our right to vote.  That doesn’t mean we don’t educate ourselves.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate and support when we see fit.  But no “side” is his favorite.

So I took my own advice and voted yesterday.  I hope that I can continue to back that up.  That’s part of my reason for writing this.  If I write it down and I put it out there, even if just 2 of you read it, then I have to hold myself accountable to not demonizing folks and to praying for our leaders.  I have to hold myself accountable to trying to do the best I can to bring about change in this world for the kingdom of God whether that is by baby steps along the way or standing up for things even when it’s not popular.  I have to hold myself accountable to being a Christ follower first and foremost and to let my heart and discernment guide me throught the rest.

Hard

It’s hard to get back in the swing of things when my mind is still full.  Fall break is over and the students and I are slammed back into reality – them with tests, papers, midterms and catching up on all of the schoolwork they didn’t do on fall break and me with CROP Walk looming this Sunday and …. (I don’t even want to talk about the to do list right now).  As many of you know, we spent the break in New York City at the Church Center Building across from the United Nations doing a seminar through the United Methodist Seminar Program on Human Trafficking.

I have been taking groups to New York to the Seminar Program since 2005 and have never been disappointed.  I am consistently amazed at the quality of speakers, intentional dialogue, provocative and thought-provoking worship, and the entire program.  We have studied Inter-Religious Dialogue, Immigration, Race and Urban Poverty, Homelessness and Gentrification.  I can’t say enough what a special treasure the seminar program is and what a blessing it has been to me and the students I have taken.  It is rare to have the opportunity to delve into a relevant topic and look at it from an intellectual and faith-based perspective and I have seen a lot of transformation and action come out of our experiences.

To say this one was a particularly “heavy” seminar is an understatement.  We have done a lot of different topics over the years but I’ve never felt so physically and emotionally exhausted as I have with this one on human trafficking.  There are so many things that struck me over the past couple of days.  We had tremendous speakers from a variety of organizations helping combat human trafficking from legal standpoints, consumer standpoints, rehabilitation, etc.  That this issue is not something far away in a distant land is crucial for people to understand.  That this is an atrocity in our world, in our nation and in our communities is an understatement.  I was thankful that many of our speakers didn’t just talk about this as an international problem or a New York City problem, but they brought up cases where this has happened right here in South Carolina.  WIS in Columbia reported on one such case here http://www.wistv.com/global/story.asp?s=12066724.  In getting back from the trip I’ve been amazed at the people in the area reaching out and lifting up other organizations right here in our area combating this issue.

I couldn’t help thinking about my husband Mike’s comments on The Tudors mini-series and him saying over and over how crazy it was that women and children were treated in such awful and manipulative ways back then, and realizing that there are plenty of women and children being treated just as unbelievably awful today.  When you hear statistics it sometimes doesn’t get under your skin.  It’s often hard for us to soak that in because it’s just numbers.  There’s an African proverb that is on the bulletin board above my desk and I wrote it down after a CROP Walk one year.  It says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.”  Statistics are numbers without tears.

The most powerful thing that we watched was a movie called Very Young Girls.  I really hope we’ll be able to show it at Winthrop next year.  There’s a trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fX6EaHuRCg.  I warn you before you watch it – it’s hard to watch – it’s hard to hear – and it’s not using “church” language.  But then again, what is “church” language?  I know that talking about some of these things is pushing the envelope and I know these are areas that are beyond taboo and not polite in normal conversation, but if we as a church aren’t talking about them, if we’re not engaging them, if we’re not trying to do something to combat this issue in real and tangible ways, than we are just as guilty as condoning.  We can’t turn a blind eye and just work on things like hunger and homelessness when all of these things are so linked together.  It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not easy but if we don’t educate, than we’re a part of the problem.

One of the neatest parts of this seminar was getting to meet the author of The Blue Notebook, James A. Levine.  He was one of the most down-to-earth and sincere people that I think I’ve ever met and this is one of the most beautiful and difficult books I’ve ever read.  Check it out.  All of the U.S. proceeds from this book are donated to the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children and the Naitonal Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.icmec.org).  By merely meeting a young girl and seeing this reality for a moment, he wrote this moving and powerful story that gets into your head and your heart and definitely under your skin.

I feel like I need to throw up beware warnings throughout this blog and any time I talk about this topic and maybe that speaks to something else entirely.  Preaching a bit about it last night at a revival, I admit made me pause – especially since there were some children in the congregation.  And yet, I can’t help but say something.  If you hear the stories of some of these girls and when you read the facts and see the magnitude of this problem and how it’s not just the story of India and Thailand but it’s our story too – we have to speak out.  That’s what Levine did.  He couldn’t just have this experience and not say something.  And every little bit we do, helps.

A wonderful guy who helped a District UMVIM group do some work at Wesley left us some more info on this topic including information on what our government is doing about this.  This info can be found at www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.  You can also call the trafficking information and referral hotline if you suspect someone of being trafficked – 1.888.3737.888.  It also gives you information about clues to look for and key questions to ask.

I can’t entirely articulate all that I feel on this issue and I don’t know if the students can yet at this point either, but I do invite you to learn more.  There are some facts below from the seminar.  And below that there are some links from some of the agencies and people we heard from.  Dig in.  Get educated.  Help spread the word.

Questions and Answers on Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?  The UN defines Human trafficking as “ the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Who are the victims of human trafficking?  Victims of human trafficking are people forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Victims are usually women and children, but men are also trafficked for various reasons, including forced labor and sexual exploitation.

Where does human trafficking happen?  Human trafficking occurs all over the world. It does not require crossing international borders.  Victims of human trafficking can be either nationals or foreign nationals. Many victims are trafficked and enslaved entirely within their own country.

What are some of the factors that lead to human trafficking?  Poverty, isolation, inequality, natural disasters, conflict and political turmoil are important factors in making certain populations more vulnerable to being trafficked. However, trafficking is a criminal industry driven by 1) the ability to make large profits due to high demand, and 2) negligible-to-low risk of prosecution. As long as demand is unchecked and the risks for traffickers are low, trafficking will exist regardless of other contributing factors.

What is the total annual revenue for trafficking in persons?  The total annual revenue for trafficking in persons is estimated to be approximately $32 billion, making it one of the top 3 illicit activities in terms of profits in the world along with the illegal sale of narcotics and arms.

What forms of trafficking are most common?  Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%), followed by forced labor (18%), such as domestic service, agriculture, factory, restaurant, and hotel work.

How many people are in modern-day slavery?  There are an estimated 27 million people currently in modern-day slavery around the world. According to UNICEF, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.

How many people are trafficked across international borders each year?  There are an estimated 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year. The US is
the second highest destination in the world for trafficked women. An estimated 20,000-50,000 people are trafficked into the US each year.

What is the UN doing about human trafficking?  Many UN agencies are working to end human trafficking. In 2007, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes established the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) “ based on a simple principle: human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with
successfully by any government alone. This global problem requires a global, multi stakeholder strategy that builds on national efforts throughout the world.”

http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/ – Check out the Chocolate campaign; have your church celebrate Freedom Sunday, check out your purchases wutg Free2Work.

http://www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/

http://www.ecpatusa.org/

www.worldhope.org

www.salvationarmyusa.org/trfficking

www.iast.net

Am I the only one?

Am I the only one who is a little miffed at Jon Stewart’s portrayal of Methodists in last week’s coverage of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding?  I know I was on vacation and out of the loop and I didn’t care nor watch any of the Clinton wedding coverage.  I also know that United Methodist Communications folks probably have bigger fish to fry, but there’s a whole lot of people that watch Jon Stewart and although he’s a little whatever at times, he does usually speak some semblance of the truth.  For the 18-35 year olds among us, many of us would choose to watch him, Colbert, or George Lopez than the news.

To see a clip from the episode I’m talking about check out this blog post from another United Methodist pastor.  He even tells you exactly when to start watching.  http://blog.hackingchristianity.net/2010/08/methodism-university-of-phoenix-of.html

If you don’t want to go to the site and see it for yourself here’s the gist – Jon Stewart says, “Being a Methodist is easy. It’s like the The University of Phoenix of religions: you just send them 50 bucks and click “I agree” and you are saved.”  Again, I know this is Jon Stewart and taken with a grain of salt.  Hello, I’m from the state of South Carolina.  We’ve been giving him great material for years.  But I still think this comment is bothersome.

Being a Methodist is easy. 

I’m a campus minister and every summer and during preview days during the school year we as a collective group of campus ministries (WCCM – Winthrop Cooperative Campus Ministries) host a table with the other student activity groups and we sign up students for more information about the various ministries.  It’s always hilarious to me how many students we get from particular denominations that actually emphasize this connection, how many students are looking nicely around and smiling and then they see our sign that says Campus Ministries and they don’t make eye contact, how many times we never see the student if the parent is the one who signed them up, and those that have already heard about our ministries from their home churches even before they got there.  Now that is a study in and of itself.  Inevitably when I leave these exchanges, I think boy, this grace thing that we United Methodists talk about all the time – that’s a tricky thing.  I don’t know if it’s helping us or hurting us in the arena of discipleship.

Don’t get me wrong – I love grace.  Heck my daughter Evy is Evy Grace.  Without grace humanity would be up the creek with no paddle and not even a boat or creek to begin with.  I LOVE the Wesleyan understanding of grace.  Prevenient grace – God draws us to God’s self even before we know it; Justifying grace – We realize that God’s grace is not only abundant but sufficient for us – even on our most sinful and lost day; Sanctifying grace – God doesn’t leave us where we are in sin but walks with us on this journey of faith drawing us forth to living more and more like Christ.  I get it.  I love it.  Seriously.

But dude, I think half of our people think because they have this grace thing down pat, than they’re all good to go and they forget that sanctifying part where we’re supposed to be growing more and more in the ways of Jesus.  You’ve heard of cheap grace.  I’ve never really liked that phrase because I don’t think grace is cheap – it came at a cost and one we didn’t have to pay.  I may not like the phrase but I think we see the sentiment all around us and contrary to what Mr. Stewart may believe, living out a life of faith is not easy.

Maybe if we really believed the theology we say we do, the things that the Wesleys’ lifted up in their teaching, their music, their lives – maybe then it wouldn’t look so easy or watered down.  I also argue that there are plenty of United Methodists and I know other Christians all over the world that are living out the Gospel with all of its radical, counter-cultural, transformational, and tenacious glory all over the place in all the ways they can, by all the means they can, as ever as long they can.

You don’t press the easy button and then suddenly become a Methodist.  Now that would make a funny new UMC commercial – true.  But it’s a balance.  Grace comes to us freely and without merit.  That in some ways is really easy.  You just call on the name of Jesus and viola – it is that easy.  A free gift – not earned, not based on gold stars we’re collecting on a sticker board in the sky.  How many people do we see in the gospel accounts as they encounter Jesus and suddenly their eyes are opened and they realize he is Lord?  That part – the ah hah – when we get it – is as easy as accepting it and knowing it.  But the living it and breathing it and trusting it and stepping out in faith – that’s a process.  That’s a lifetime.  That’s a step by step, day by day. 

So yes, Jon Stewart I think you are hilarious.  Yes, you are right that there was way too much news coverage of the Clinton wedding.  But yes you bothered me in your comments about our denomination.  Then again, maybe we should be bothered.  Maybe we should think about what we stand for.  Maybe we should think about how we’re living out our faith and how we’re living out such a radical Gospel.  Seriously, maybe that should be our new ad campaign.  Ready or not?  Easy or not?  What does it mean to follow Jesus?  What does it mean to be a United Methodist?  What do we actually stand for?  Not just what we stand against a la Anne Rice’s rant, but what do we clear as a bell, beyond a shadow of a doubt, stand for?

I’m not going to go there with the Anne Rice thing at this point but for a response I really liked and thatresonated with me, here’s one by Karen Spears Zacharias.  http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/current-events/op-ed-blog/22453-an-open-letter-to-anne-rice