Monday, January 22, 2007

More About Angel del Basuero

As a follow up to my most recent posting I want to give you a couple of other links about the Angel del Basuero--the Angel of the Garbage Dump--Hanley Denning.

The Portland Press Herald ran a really nice article about Hanley. And here's a really lovely report on her stateside memorial service, held in Yarmouth.

According to another Press Herald article, there is a film, Recycled Life, that is a 38-minute documentary about the people who live and work on and around the Guatemala City Dump. It has now been nominated for an Academy Award. Here is an article about the film, and here is a link to the film's web site where you can watch the trailer and pre-order a copy of the DVD.

And, of course, if you haven't yet, visit the Safe Passage/Camino Seguro site to see for yourself what this young woman's vision and passion brought into being.

In Gassho,


Friday, January 19, 2007

There's One More Star in the Heavens, and the Earth is Less Luminous

Hanley Denning, a young woman from Yarmouth, Maine, went to Antigua to learn Spanish. What she found there was the poverty and the pain of the families living on and around the Guatemala City Dump. Larger than several football fields, the dump was "home" to generations and Hanley knew she had to do something.

Her story could easily be a TV movie--as she told it to me my mouth kept dropping open at the sheer unlikeliness of it all--yet every scene would be true. She sold her car and her computer and began to try offering services to the children of the dump. A priest offered her an unused chapel at the edge of the dump and by herself Hanley began to clean it up. Some local kids started hanging out; then they started helping. The local drug dealers tried to run her out. She stayed. The vision grew.
That was in 1999. Today the organization she founded--Safe Passage/Camino Seguro--serves over 550 children. Each child receives assistance with homework and hands-on learning activities designed to reinforce basic primary school concepts; they also participate in a range of programs such as art, music, sports, English classes, and computer instruction.
Safe Passage also provides nutritional support, an on-site clinic, vocational training, and clubs for children and their mothers. And they have early intervention programs, adult literacy programs, and residential care for children coming from the most dangerous and unstable living situations. Volunteers come from around the world to be a part of this incredible program, all of which came into being because one woman knew she had to do something about the horror she saw in front of her.
When I interviewed Hanley for the radio show I briefly hosted in Portland, Maine, I left the studio knowing that I had been in the presence of a living saint. The fact that she would have been incredibly uncomfortable with that description was one of the reasons I felt so sure. Hanley was a living demonstration of the words of Edward Everett Hale: "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I must not hesitate to do the something that I can."

Hanley died in a car accident yesterday, January 18th, 2007. If it's true that when a person dies a new star shines in the heavens, it is no less true that today the world is less luminous for this loss.

in Gassho,


Saturday, January 13, 2007

One word . . . plastics

There are some wonderful benefits to having children. Lots of them, actually, but yesterday I was appreciating one in particular--the chance to watch children's television. My youngest and I were watching an episode of Reading Rainbow which was focusing on recylcing. There was a brief piece on the development of technologies that can turn corn into plastic!

Surplus corn can be harvested and turned into plastic that can be made into everything from containers to utensils to clothing, and when the product's usefulness has ended it can be composted. So you can recycle not only your old vegetable scraps but the bags the vegetables came in in the first place!

Is this a great world or what?

in Gassho,


Thursday, January 11, 2007

How Far Have We Come?

I'm preparing my sermon for the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend and so am considering the state of race in America today. On the one hand, Massachusetts recently swore in its first--and the country's second--African-American governor and Barack Obama is considered by most a serious contender for the White House in 2008.

On the other hand, thanks to the NAACP's magazine The Crisis I came across a truly disturbing seven minute video documentary called A Girl Like Me. A high school student named Kiri Davis was working on a project for her literature class in which she was interviewing young women of color. Over and over again issues having to do with societal assumptions about beauty and the girls' sense of self kept coming up. She thought it might make a good documentary film and, as part of the Reel Works Teen Filmmakers project she created her film. [You can watch it at the Media That Matters Film Festival website. This link brings you to the Festival's home page; this one brings you right to the film.]

A Girl Like Me contains interviews with some young women of color, but the really disturbing thing is Davis' recreation of the 1947 "baby doll" tests of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark. In this test, identical dolls were presented to a child and the child was asked to identify the “nice” doll, the “bad” doll, and the doll he or she would rather play with. As I said, these were identical dolls, down to their clothing, except for the color of the doll’s skin. One was white and one was brown.

In his original experiment, which was used as one of the arguments in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision, Clark found that of the sixteen children between the ages of six and nine he tested, ten of them chose the white doll as their preference, ten of them considered the white doll the "nice" doll, and eleven of the sixteen called the brown doll the "bad" doll.

Ms. Davis recreated this experiment down to the exact wording of the questions for her film in 2005, and of the twenty-one children she studied eleven picked the white doll over the black doll. When asked why the white doll was the “nice” doll she was told, by the most innocent little faces you’ve ever seen, “because it’s white.” When asked why the black doll was “bad,” she was told that it was because “it’s black.” And most heart rending of all, when she asked the kids, as Dr. Clark had asked them in the ‘40s, “Which doll looks like you?” you can see the confusion, the hesitancy, and the hurt as they push forward the black doll they’d just denigrated.

So what's happened to the Rev. Dr. King's dream that people will be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? We may have come a long way, but we have a long way still to go.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Real Issue

A member of the congregation I serve in Brewster, MA suggested that we create buttons that read:

"What God has joined together let no one break asunder . . . save gay marriage!"

We may be getting into the button business in the near future (keep watch on this space for more information!), but it's assured that we're going to be getting BACK into the fight for marriage equality. With the recent vote of the State Legislature folks are coming forward more committed than ever.

I want to make two points that just keep coming up for me in all of the debate around this issue:

First, some people say that "marriage" must be reserved for heterosexuals because "the purpose of marriage is procreation." If that's really true, then people who bear children out of wedlock, and folks like my wife and me who are married but unable to conceive children, are likewise a threat to the institution of marriage. Until the opponents of marriage equality begin a campaign to somehow deal with these two groups I will always suspect that this isn't their real concern.

Second, when opponents of marriage equality talk about the "sanctity of marriage" being under attack by gays and lesbians who want their unions to be recognized and don't also demonize adulterers and batterers and, for that matter, the producers of "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" I also find their arguments less than convincing. Which is more destructive of a sense of the sacredness of the institution--no-fault divorce or a couple of women who've been committed to one another for over thirty years wanting to get married? I get the idea that the "sanctity of marriage" isn't really what's worrying them, either.

The last point I want to make is not mine, but Welton Gaddy's. Rev. Gaddy is President of the Interfaith Alliance, a Baptist minister, and host of State of Belief a weekly radio show that airs on AirAmerica Radio. At the time the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was being debated he wrote:
“For those people who want to protect marriage, let me offer a few suggestions: Raise the public’s consciousness of the dignity and importance of women in our still deeply patriarchal society; increase the minimum wage and offer tax breaks to the working poor so that spouses can see each other for quality lengths of time, rather than briefly passing on their way to two jobs; encourage family planning; start a plan to deal with domestic violence; and work to cover mental health care in medical insurance policies so serious emotional difficulties can be prevented from tearing marriages apart.”

But somehow I get the feeling that "defending marriage" isn't really the issue that they're talking about either.

Hmmmmm. I wonder what is.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

At the End of Our Rope

The deposed leader of Iraq Saddam Hussein has been hanged before the eyes of the world--quite literally, because of a leaked videotape of the hanging. Called a brutal dictator, a murder, responsible for untold crimes against his neighbors and his own people, his removal from power has been the retrofitted reason the Bush administration has given for our invasion of Iraq. (Before the war, you may recall, it was because of "weapons of mass destruction;" after no such weapons were found, the rationale morphed into "regime change.")

His death may well be justice for his crimes; the world may in fact be better of without Saddam Hussein in it. I am in no position to judge. But the image of a man falling to his death at the end of a rope in a world where that image can be captured on a cell phone and almost instantaneously sent around the world via the Internet--that upsets me. It's like one of those episodes of Star Trek when Kirk and company land on a planet with tremendously futuristic technology on which everyone nonetheless acts as if it's Earth's "old west." The juxtaposition is jarring. What are we doing hanging people--anyone--in the twenty-first century?

Albert Einstein once famously said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” When will we learn that war is not the way to make peace? That fear and hatred cannot bring a shift to love? That murder--even state sanctioned murder, even for one who deserves to die--is simply not right?

I hope it's soon enough because at times I fear that it's we who are at the end of our rope.

in gassho,


The Golden Rule

I recently moved to Massachusetts, proud to be living in the first state in Union to recognize that there is no legal impediment to two people--regardless of gender--joining their lives in marriage. Folks may have their own moral, religious, and/or philosophical perspectives--it is still a free country, after all--but from a purely legal standpoint there's no reason heterosexual couples and homosexual couples should be treated differently.

Today the state legislature voted to move forward a proposed ammendment to the language of the state constitution which would define marriage as between one man and one woman. I'm hearted to note that the vote was 61 for to 132 against, but still the measure needed only 50 votes to move forward.

I wish they'd read my recent editorial in the Cape Cod Times. (You have to scroll down a bit to get there, but it's there: "Two dimensions of marriage.") Or, if not me, I wish they'd listened to our state's Governor-elect, Deval Patrick, who said:
"Above all, this is a question of conscience. Using the initiative process to give a minority fewer freedoms than the majority, and to inject the state into fundamentally private affairs, is a dangerous precedent, and an unworthy one for this Commonwealth," he said in a statement. "I hope by whatever means appropriate, the constitutional convention today ends this debate."

But it won't, of course. As with the debates around abolition, and women's sufferage, and civil rights for African Americans, this debate will continue. Why, though, in this nation which so many continue to call a "Christian nation" is it so hard for folks to put into practice what Jesus taught as the heart and soul of his message: do unto others as you would have others do unto you? (Or, as another religious tradition puts it, what you would not have someone do to you, do not do that to someone else.)

Yours in Gassho,