Archive for February, 2015

Resource Review: Farewell to Manzanar

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

When one hears the words Day of Remembrance, all kinds of thoughts might filter through your head. What about the internment of Japanese Americans in 1944?  Does that ring a bell? Feb 19th, this past Thursday, was the anniversary of the signing of Executive order 9102.  This is the executive order signed by President Roosevelt that forced over 127,000 thousand United States citizens to sell their houses and positions and leave their jobs, schools, and friends to be forcibly detained in internment camps all over the United States.  If this particular bit of information is news to you, then you may be wondering why they were detained and considered such a threat.

After Pearl Harbor, the United States government was in a panic trying to figure out how they had been caught off guard and how they could prevent another attack on American soil. This particular group of citizens, men, women, and children, were detained because of their Japanese ancestry.  The government was afraid that, even though, these people were American citizens and most had never stepped foot on Japanese soil that they were susceptible to Japanese corrosion and would turn and fight for our enemies. According to Henry Steele Commager in Harper’s Magazine, 1947,

“It is sobering to recall that though the Japanese relocation program, carried through at such incalculable cost in misery and tragedy, was justified on the ground that the Japanese were potentially disloyal, the record does not disclose a single case of Japanese disloyalty or sabotage during the whole war…“

For adults, it is a bit easier for us to process the tragedies and atrocities that pepper our American History. For children, however, this knowledge can be a bit harder to grasp. Some people believe that because it is difficult for children to understand we should shelter them by keeping our children in the dark about painful events in history. In recent years, however, there have been a number of books written to help educate our children about shameful times in our history in a way that they can understand.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband James D. Houston decided to write a book called Farewell to Manzanar.  This story is a true account of the Japanese American Experience during and after the World War II Internment. Houston recalls life at Manzanar through the eyes of her seven-year-old self. She tells of her fear, confusion, and bewilderment as well as the dignity and great resourcefulness of people in oppressive and demeaning circumstances.

The book starts with a historical timeline that allows the reader to understand the timeframe and political and cultural feelings during the timeframe of the book.      Wakatsuki begins her story on the day she found out about Pearl Harbor. She tells how her father, a lively and rambunctious man, had a prosperous fishing business and a huge loving tight knit family. Wakatsuki tells how after Pearl Harbor things began to move quickly. Soon after her father was taken in for questioning. The family was then ordered to move to the Manzanar Internment Camp.  While in the camp, Wakatsuki sees her family change right before her eyes. They no longer eat and socialize together the family unit then begins to break down.  Personal privacy, a treasured cultural norm, becomes a luxury no one can afford. She tells how, after a year, her father, a shell of the man he once was, comes to live with them at the camp. In the final few chapters, Wakatsuki tells about her family’s time after the camp trying to find some meaning in her time there. This book is a beautiful read and a powerful testimony to a tragic event in American history.

Wakatsuki reveals events and people that shaped her time and experience at Manzanar. These events are peppered with her understandings and thoughts about them now that she is an adult and has had some separation from this dark period of her life. Wakatsuki writes in such a way that one can see the situation through the innocence of a child while also understanding the adult complexities that accompany life as a Japanese American in the Manzanar Internment Camp and America during WWII.

It is often easy for us to believe that the past is over and done with and that the world has learned its lesson. Why then is it important for Christians to know and continually learn about history? Kevin Stilley, the pastor of Stadium Drive Baptist Church, says that Christians should study history because “the past shapes the present and future and by studying history, we are better able to comprehend what it means to be human and as Christians it helps us to be better equipped to help change and craft a better present and future for ourselves and our children.”

Using a book like Farewell to Manzanar allows children and adults alike a glimpse into one of the darkest days in American history through the heart, mind, and eyes of a seven-year-old girl. Even though, the author was seven when these events occurred because it was written by an adult and deals with some mature themes, I believe this book is most appropriate for children over the age of 10. This book is rich with complex characters and situations full of varying shades of gray. This book will allow the readers to begin a dialogue on the important and difficult topics of injustice, incarceration, and confessing corporate and national responsibility. 

O Holy One, in remembrance of the lives that were forever changed through internment, liberation, and contrition, let us pray that the decisions and executive orders made so long ago do not repeat themselves again. Let us learn from history and discover the ways you have revealed to us bring peace to all those in need. AMEN.

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Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

 

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Share

Putting On Ashes

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

 

Putting on ashes is a practice that goes back dates to the very earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible: Job sat amongst the ashes and covered himself in them to show his sorrow before God; Abraham expressed that he was like dust and ash before God’s majesty; Mordecai put on ashes and sackcloth when he heard the plan by Haman to exterminate the Jewish population in Persia; and the people of Nineveh put on ashes to show their repentance to God. The use of ashes throughout the scriptures is complex. It shows our mortality before an immortal God. It shows that we were created from the dust of the Earth and, in the end, we will return to our origins. The putting on of ashes also serves the purpose of showing repentance.

Today on Ash Wednesday we participate in this ancient practice. We put ashes on our heads, but what does this symbolic act mean for us today? We have often associated Ash Wednesday with the acknowledgement of our own mortality, but repentance, one of the key meanings of this practice, is becoming has become lost to us. “To repent” means “to turn” or “to take a different path.” As Christians today, it is easy for us to see the sin in our lives or in our world, and to keep right on stubbornly trudge along the path that we are on. It is very easy for us to ignore people freezing out on our streets. It is easy to ignore the inherent sin in the systems that make us comfortable, that keep us warm, fed, and safe. There is a big difference between recognizing that there is sin in this world and that we are participants in it, and turning our backs on these sinful systems in order to take a new path.

On Ash Wednesday, we must remember that God is calling us to a new path. This path, however, will not be easy nor will it be comfortable. Love of God and love of neighbor never put us in easy or comfortable situations. The practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes was not meant to be a comfortable activity. It draws attention to us and the sackcloth and ashes were itchy dirty and discomforting. It draws the attention of the crowd to our dirtied bodies as we itch under rough cloth. Putting on ashes is not a fad, but a communication event that sends a message to us and to God. When we put on the ashes and make the uncomfortable decision to call out to God in repentance, God turns us in the direction of a new path. When we repent God does not send us back to our old path of security and prosperity, but instead sends us into the wilderness.

The connection between repentance and the pathway into the wilderness is the very reason why Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. Repentance is always the gateway to new opportunity. The Israelites had to first submit themselves to God by heeding Moses’ directions for Passover, before they could be led from Egypt into the wilderness. The wilderness is not a bleak, desolate place of hopelessness. It is a place where our relationship with God can be both strengthened and put to the test. Repentance brings us reconciliation with God, but the work is not yet finished. Venturing into the wilderness is hard for us to comprehend in a culture of plenty because we are taught by the culture to find the path that makes us comfortable. But this culture is not God’s culture. God calls us to a path that makes us uncomfortable.

Our culture calls us to all-you-can-eat buffets and Black Friday sales. God calls us to ask the question of why some people have so little to eat and so few resources compared to us.

Our culture calls us to celebrity obsession and quick judgment of an oddly-dressed stranger on the bus. God calls us to humility, in which the dignity of every human being is respected.

God calls us to change while our culture calls us to stay the same.

Change is never comfortable. Marking ourselves with ashes not only symbolizes that we are creatures standing before a divine God, but also that we are willing and able to change, to no longer participate in the sinful systems and powers that have made us so comfortable.

The wilderness transforms us into a people who seek God’s justice and God’s Kingdom in this world. The wilderness is a place from which we leave no longer the same people that we were before we entered it. We become a community that asks the hard and troubling questions like, why are so many young black men being killed in our streets? Why are 500,000 women raped every year in our country? Why is HIV/AIDS a scary yet treatable disease for most Westerners and a death sentence for an African mother? We become a church who puts action behind these questions and responds to these questions with action to change the very systems that brought us comfort, plenty, and security through sin.

To put on ashes is to step out into the unknown, to go on to the new path that God has set before us.
 

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Matt Knonenborg is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary and an intern with the Methodist Federation for Social Action. A graduate of Shenandoah University, Matt served congregations in rural Virginia prior to coming to MFSA. He's a passionate researcher and hopes to continue this studies to one day become a professor. (Photos provided by Creative Commons and Matt Knoneborg)

A Visit to the House of “Representatives”

Friday, February 6th, 2015

When your boss tells you that as part of your job you get to attend your first House of Representatives hearing, I, of course, pumped my fists and began to plan my outfit and daydream about what an adventure this was going to be. This particular hearing was referencing aid to Palestine and Palestine’s authority in the International Criminal Court  (ICC), held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Walking into the room on Wednesday, I was overwhelmed by the opulence and grandeur. Once we took our seats I was finally able to take a look around the room. There were members of Congress along with tons of staffers in all their fine suits and attire. Along the back wall were seated what I recognized to be the general public. They were sitting peacefully, some of them silently holding up signs, and being a beautiful witness to end the occupation of Palestine.  The room began to fill quickly with people in support of Palestine. There were a sea of pro-Palestinian t-shirts, signs and keffiyahs. After about five minutes the small room was completely packed.  While cataloging the room, I notice, to my alarm, there are quite a few police officers. I began to wonder if something was going to happen.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I see more than 4 officers in a small room I don’t feel safe. I begin to feel intimidated.

As the hearing begins, I settle in and listen to the committee as Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) began to outline the reason and procedure for today’s hearing.

The Chairwoman took her time in introducing herself, those in the committee, and those she had invited to participate in the panel. I, for one, was excited about this part. The United States government has always fascinated me. I love reading and watching about bi-partisanship and seeing how our government functions to bring about law and order. However, I was to be disappointed. Almost immediately it was evident that every single member of the committee who spoke was extremely pro-Israel. I heard Congressmembers speak about Palestine as if they were terrorists fighting against Israel, who had done nothing wrong. I began to wonder “if everyone on the committee is on the same page then why in the world were we even here?”

During these introductions and speeches a woman with her three children silently came in from the back. Since there were not enough seats the woman and her children stood in the back against the wall with pro-Palestinian signs. These signs were hand written and had quotes like, “#ICC4Israel – Genocide is not ok.”  Another read, “ I’m here for the children who will never grow up in Palestine.” Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen paused the proceedings to remind everyone to sit down and that signs were considered a disruption. I will admit to being puzzled by this considering the chairwomen took the time to also state that graphic designed t-shirts were perfectly okay during proceedings. The woman and her children began looking for seats. The people behind me were nice enough to scoot together so that they could all sit down.

Now it was time for the panelists to give their testimony. I hoped once again that now I was going to see both sides presented and debated like I had seen on TV time and time again. Sadly, this was not the case. One by one as the panelists began speaking, all were clearly stating a pro-Israel position. I could tell the mood in the room was shifting as one by one all of the other observers began to realize, just as I had, that these proceedings were biased and that nothing, not even our presence, would actually help a positive position for Palestine be achieved.

While for the most part the observers, like myself, had remained calm and quiet with only a few huffs and loud sighs. That was until Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich compared Palestinians to terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. As one can imagine, this caused quiet an outrage among not only the protestors but myself as well. I knew that politics could be dirty but I was disappointed in such blatant exaggerations. After this the audience erupted in cries of outrage. It was at this point that Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen put the proceedings in recess until the courtroom could be cleared of those who were disrupting the proceedings. Now, I thought this meant that only those who had spoken were going to be asked to leave. How I was wrong!  The capitol police began to clear out the room. A woman sitting in the center section among those who had signs and t-shirts, tried to clarify if she was to leave when she didn’t say anything. The police tell her “everyone has to go.” This is when I begin to notice that my row is not being cleared. I again checked to make sure my colleague and I were not sitting in the staffers section. We were not.

I started to pay attention to who exactly was being made to leave. The police were clearing out anyone with signs or wearing t-shirts and keffiyahs. While not everyone who was asked to leave was Palestinian, if you were not white and in a suit or a dress, you were being made to leave. It was after clearly ignoring our row that my colleague, MFSA executive director Chett Pritchett, calmly asked an officer whether or not “everyone” meant all of the public? I believe at this point the officer realized that he had been leaving out a chunk of the audience. The officer then escorted my row of white, well-dressed participants out into the hallway through a crowd of clearly upset protestors, who crying “Shame” at the Congressmembers.  After Chett and I left the proceedings, I began to think about my experience while on the Metro ride back to campus.

I will admit I have never felt, before these proceedings, that I really had any right to have an opinion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, since I am neither Israeli or Palestinian, nor am I an authority on eithers history and living situations. However, on my Metro ride home, I continued to think about I would feel if I was demonized in an official proceeding like that? How would I, if I was that woman, explain to my children why they were being kicked out of a room by police officers for not doing anything? The only answer I could come up with is that it doesn’t matter what side anyone is on. As citizens of this country, or just people who live and work in the United States, it is our duty to hold our government officials accountable for their words, deeds, and actions. We must hold them to a higher standard. We must reach these members of Congress that no matter their personal opinions, that allowing our legislative system to become narrow minded and to allow hearings like this again are a slippery slope that lead us away from democracy and toward the authoritarianism and tyranny that we constantly call other countries to account for everyday. As for me, I will continue to pray, vote, and witness at other hearings for a more honest and equal representation in our legislative system and for all the violence and war to cease.

On that Metro train, I reflected on why I was there and what would make me go back to another hearing like that. I continued to think about the one woman’s sign. Whenever I am asked why I am present in the struggle I will say. “I am here for ALL of the children who will not be able to grow up or have had to grow up too fast because of violence all over the world.” They need a voice, too.

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Sarah Louise Cobb is a second-year student at Wesley Theological Seminary. Originally from the Memphis area, Sarah is seeking ordination as a Deacon in The United Methodist Church. As part of her field education, she is interning at MFSA.

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