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Archive for March, 2017

Syria’s “White Helmets,” Lord be with them, risk life and limb to save the lives of innocent men, women and children. (Pic from the film “Cries From Syria.”)

My goal was to put it (the Syrian crisis) in perspective and to translate everything that happens — reconstruct the history and to help the people to understand the Syrian refugee puzzle and to express it through their voices.

For me, it was important that they tell the story.”

— Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky on his riveting documentary “Cries From Syria”

A Turkish police officer discovered the body of Alan Kurdi on Sept. 2, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank en route to the Greek island of Kos.
Nilufer Demir/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Having read some of the many reviews and articles about the documentary “Cries From Syria,” I watched its broadcast on HBO last night with much anticipation.

It made me hear the cries of suffering Syrians with a sense of intimacy, empathy and discomfort.

The film had me in the first five minutes, with its fast-moving, concise, educational overview of the history of Syria from biblical times until now.

I was mightily impressed by how enlightening this short history lesson was: simple enough that a seventh-grader would perk up and pay attention and want to learn more.

Cut now to that now famous image of Alan Kurdi, the boy who washed ashore on a Turkish after a boat carrying Syrian refugees sank and a reminder of his story and an overview of the desperation of Syrians fleeing their country’s evil leader.

Then we get up-close and personal stories after more stories of the horrors that have been inflicted on Syrians and resistors to the cruel regime of Syria’s leader, Bashar Al-Assad.

Assad, by the way, is a British-trained physician with that calm, refined demeanor of his. Maybe the world would pay more attention to him and his war crimes if he were out in front of the TV cameras every day with a Hitleresque mustache and military uniform screaming and shouting, like so many high-profile mass killers do.

This is a British-educated doctor who deliberately bombed water sources that cut off water for 5.5 million people in and around Syria’s capital Damascus.

Bashar Al-Assad, a physician who practices the coldest cruelty imaginable.

The documentary gives us portraits of brave and inspiring resistors who stood up to Assad and his blood-thirsty soldiers, like one young man who was a sort of Gandhi who led peaceful protests. These protesters confronted Assad’s killers face-to-face, offering them bottles of water and flowers and shouting: “We are your Syrian brothers! Why do you want to kill us? We are brothers!”

These peacemaking brothers were eventually tortured and killed. (And for the record, a lot of Assad’s former soldiers have joined the armed rebellion against him.)

HBO’s “Cries From Syria” film subject Kholoud Helmi, producer/director Evgeny Afineevsky and SVP of HBO Documentary Films Nancy Abraham attend the HBO Documentary Films Party at Sundance 2017. Helmi is a Syrian journalist who worked underground in Syria, then had to flee to Turkey when her life was in danger.

The film is hard to watch, unflinching as it is in sharing footage of atrocities that make you wonder how in God’s name people can be so cruel. My bedtime prayers were informed by it.

But the film’s power lies in it’s in-your-face approach–the wakeup call that a Western world without much real knowledge of Syria and the refugee crisis needs to see.

Here’s an excerpt of what Foreign Policy Journal says about the doc, including that which the film left out.

Or better yet read the whole piece here for more background and education on “the Syrian puzzle”:

    The final part of the film tells the story of Syrians fleeing the nightmare, being shot at by Turkish soldiers, having to sell everything to pay smugglers to help them get across borders, by land or sea. We again see the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi washed up on the shore.

    By December 2016, an estimated 600,000 people had died in the war; 7 million Syrians became internally displaced; 4.8 million fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq; more than 1 million fled to Europe; and more than 13 million were in need of humanitarian assistance to survive.

    Crisis from Syria is an important film. It tells a story that needs telling and emphasizing: the plight of the civilian population of Syria. In explaining how outside powers have intervened in ways that have only increased the suffering of civilians, however, the film is woefully silent about one: the government of the United States.

    While the film propagates the official myth that the Obama administration didn’t get involved in Syria until the chemical weapon attack in Ghouta in 2013, the truth is the US had been intervening in Syria since at least early 2012, with the CIA funneling arms supplied by its regional partners Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebel forces.

    (Also left out is the story of how the US and Russia actually came to cooperate on ridding Syria of its chemical weapons: Obama had declared his intention to start bombing the country and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, ad-libbed a reply to a reporter’s question in which he said the Assad regime could avoid that outcome by disarming; Russian President Vladimir Putin then called on Assad to so disarm, and Assad accepted the deal, cutting the legs out from under the US’s pretext for military intervention.)…

    The US role in the Syrian tragedy is also an important story that needs telling, and it’s unfortunate that the western mainstream media have instead chosen to push a propaganda narrative in which the crisis is blamed on an absence of US intervention in Syria.

    Cries from Syria, whether intentionally or not, similarly whitewashes the US’s role. While this does not detract from the importance of the story it tells about the plight of the civilian population, it does limit its value for assessing what should be done to help them in their plight.

    This is a question the film leaves open. It does not advocate any political—or military—solution. That is not its purpose. Its goal, rather, in Afineevsky’s words, is to show viewers the plight of Syrian civilians “from the inside out, through the eyes of those trapped in-between—many of them children—and experience their suffering, bravery, struggle, survival and hope.”

    At this the film certainly succeeds. It’s at times hard to watch. You might be tempted to look away.

    Don’t.

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Snoopy is a mystic dog for sure.

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think.
~ Maya Angelou

Another Roadside Attraction from Belize, where they like to dance.

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This being International Women’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on my life.

But then, it so happens that I did a lot of reflecting on all the women who’ve had so much influence on me in writing The View From Down in Poordom.

The book begins and ends with stories about my mother, Goldie McKay, and my Aunt Newell Chasteen, two strong women who were miles apart in their church affiliations and theologies but deeply respectful of one another. (Scroll down for more about the book and a link to the introduction based on their stories.)

Many of the clergy and lay leaders who’ve impacted my life and informed my theology and ministry were women.

Years ago when I was exploring candidacy for ordained ministry, I was active in a small, rural United Methodist Church.

The preacher was a woman and I saw up-close and personal the difficulties women clergy are up against in so many churches.

This pastor, a dear friend and mentor who helped me determine if I was truly being called to the ordained life and graciously allowed me to preach and teach to explore the calling, was once called in by the church’s lay leaders because she had an appointment every Thursday at 3 p.m. for a manicure. They told her that she needed to go to the beauty shop on her day off because she was expected to “work” from 9 to 5 and could use that hour to visit shut-ins and others.

Fortunately, her district superintendent (a sort of supervisor figure over preachers in the United Methodist Church system) came to her defense. He explained to the congregation’s lay leaders–who were never any too happy to have a woman appointed to their little East Texas church–that a preacher is never not working, that a preacher is on duty 24-7.

The preacher, he reminded them, is going to “go to work” and come to your side if you have a death in the family or some such tragedy in the middle of the night.

Being the pastor of a church is the hardest “job” in the world.

And 10 times harder if you’re a woman and never mind that women clergy tend to be just as good–and so often so much better–than men.

I’ll go so far as to assert that women–who are nurturers and therefore are much better listeners than men–are typically much better than male clergy.

I have this Facebook friend named Elaine Heath. She’s the Dean and Professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology at Duke Divinity School, which is only one of the best seminaries in the world is all it is. (See more about her and Duke Divinity here.)

She raised this question on her Facebook page the other day–and got lots and lots of interesting replies from women, some of which I’ve culled to share with you>

    Q.) Okay, women friends, what were you warned about that didn’t stop you? I was warned that seminary was a waste of time and money because no church would want a woman pastor.

A sampling of the mind-boggling reponses:

I was told not to wear my hair too short or people would think I am a lesbian, and not to wear it long because men like it too much. I was told not to allow toe cleavage to show when I preach because men would find it distracting, and oh so many other warnings against my very dangerous embodiment as a woman. I decided it is best to simply be myself and use common sense.

I was warned that God didn’t call women to be ministers.

I was warned to not continue my career until I was done having babies.

When I was in my final year of Divinity school in 1980, I met with my bishop to discuss this evolving, wonder-filled call I had received to ordained ministry. He told me that he thought I should first get married, have and raise my children and then, when they were grown, maybe I could be a part-time children’s director at a church. Many years later, when I was a District Superintendent, during appointment making season, one of my district churches told me that they didn’t want another woman pastor because “we have already had one.” But this is one of my favorites: on my last Sunday in a church I had served for 12 years, a little boy who had only known one pastor (me) asked his mom: “Mommy, can guys be preachers?”

I was warned: not to mention my cultural background, not to speak unless invited (lest I make a fool of myself), not to wear a collar (as it made me look like a try-hard), not to preside at sacraments in ecumenical settings, not to wear earrings when preaching… not to use non-gendered language, as it is off-putting, not to hang my clothes on the Manse clothesline… (I really reckon the last is the best!)

I’ve been warned that because I’m a layperson and a woman, my ministry won’t be taken seriously.

I was warned about going into the military, flight training, ordination, and church planting.

A lay leader in my first field ed placement warned me that pants were inappropriate for a woman to wear when serving communion. Persisted.

The matriarch of a recent church wielded her Bible around like a weapon, shouting at me “if you don’t learn how to read the Bible correctly…” Persisted.

A dear friend warned me that the purchase of a white couch was probably not the best decision with two dogs and a new baby on the way. Should have listened to that one.

I was warned that I don’t look like a pastor and I quote “you will be seen as dangerous for other women around their husbands and boyfriends” so the solution was to dress in suits and more “professional” clothing. I was so shamed. I dress in business casual most days and tend to try to emulate the styles I see my age appropriate friends wearing. The person even pointed out I wore a spaghetti strap dress at annual conference the dress goes down past my knees and is from Ann Taylor lofts summer collection. I would never describe it as “sexy.” I cried for days I’ve never felt more ashamed of the way I look. The amazing thing was that sooooo many people not aware that I had just been told this by a woman and someone I respected said the exact opposite about me “you are so relatable because of the way you look” “I love your style thank goodness you can be you and do this job.” The best part in all of this is I now lead a church that is growing really quickly in the millennial age group (one that everyone says is impossible to grow in) and many people have expressed that part of the reason they felt so comfortable was that the pastor resembles them and they feel safe in the space- guess what- there are lots of young married couple and older married couples and I have been asked to spend time with spouses as they have been struggling theologically- there seems to be no real concern that my femininity is dangerous or that I dress in a manner so as to entice their significant other. I also get complimented on the content of my message way more than the way I look!!! I think what hurt the most is that I have tried to look professional and maintain style because I have seen so many clergy go the opposite route and become “frumpy” in an un-relatable way.

I was told by men and women that I should wear “pumps” instead of sandals; hose instead of bare legs; that a little make-up would be nice; but I was ALSO thanked by men and women, for wearing sandals, jeans and no make-up

I too was warned I would go to hell and was leading my congregation there for being a woman pastor.

I was warned by men that people don’t like to hear women’s voices, especially in the pulpit, something to do with a grating quality. But then, I was told my voice wasn’t too bad……

I was told my earrings were distracting by a woman after a particularly challenging sermon, so I said I was sorry she chose to focus on that instead of what I was saying. I got a puzzled look.

I was told no one would ever take me seriously because of the way I look. I even had a woman pastor tell me to ‘cover myself’ because I was wearing a crew neck top. She thought I should wear a turtleneck. (Btw, turtlenecks don’t diminish womanly curves😂).
I’ve found sadly enough that other woman tend to say those things more than men. They’d rather tear down than build up.

I went before my District Committee when I was about 5 months pregnant. Room full of men. One of them asked me how I expected to be a mother and care for a baby while I also serve a church, or something like that. The Spirit came upon me I believe and I said something like this: “Like all of you I know I will struggle with how to parent my child and serve in the church. I ‘m sure I’ll need to rely on the help of family and friends, and I know it won’t always be easy. I assume all of us struggle with how to give of ourselves to our families and to the church.” Or some such words. The question was not a bad question, and I struggled with it many times for various reasons. But it was a question men should answer as well as women. That was the problem in my opinion. In the end Ken was ordained before me and I got to be on the receiving end of lots of advice about being a “good minister’s wife”. So much advice that I became anxious and worried, until finally a trusted friend (also a minister’s wife) said, “Pam, think about it. Are any of those people a minister’s wife? No? Then what do they really know about being one?” Her advice was to love my husband, find something meaningful to do in the church and be myself. Great advice for a spouse of a minister, or for the pastor when you think of it.

Support your preacher, especially if she’s a she.

———-
*You can read the introduction to The View From Down in Poordom, based on the stories of my mother and aunt, at the Amazon link here and the Barnes and Noble link here.

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I received my own copies of the book Friday. Here's a pic I took of one of the illustrations by the talented Rev. Keith L. Head.

I received my own copies of the book Friday. Here’s a pic of one of its illustrations by the talented Rev. Keith L. Head.

What follows is an excerpt from the third chapter of my newly released book, The View From Down in Poordom.

It includes pen-and-ink illustrations by retired United Methodist Reverend Keith L. Head, a man of many gifts, graces and talents.

It’s available for order online at Barnes & Noble here, and Amazon here.

3. Associate With the Lowly? Seriously, Paul?

Scripture: Romans 12:9–20 (NRSV)

Key Verse (16): “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.”

    So we Christians are to associate with the lowly? Seriously, Paul?resizeimagehandler-ashx The lowly of the world strive to be “movin’ on up” so as to associate with those higher on the income and social scales, don’t they? I mean, who wants to hang out with those on the low rungs of society? Upward mobility is the American way!

    Yet in this countercultural scripture urging what might be called “downward mobility,” St. Paul instructs us to do just that—to drop any conceits and haughtiness we harbor and get down and dirty with the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the “lowly.”

    That’s a humbling spiritual practice, but isn’t humility always the point when it comes to the theologies of poverty and ministries to the poor? It seems that Paul, who once noted that Jesus humbled himself all the way to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8), was always and forever mindful that Jesus himself had said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 NRSV).

    But who might be these lowly that Paul urges us to hang out with? Are they the unwashed masses that band together on downtown streets waiting for soup kitchens to open? Are they the undocumented immigrants who risk life and limb to get to America to scrub our toilets, mop our floors, tend our gardens, and pave our highways in blazing heat? Would the lowly be the lowlife who, in his or her despair, ended up an addict? Is the lowly the able-bodied poor person who, yielding to despair after a lifetime of being whipped down, gives up on trying to find work?

    Is it the unskilled, working-poor woman who—like a neighbor I had in Dallas—worked three jobs that netted her a total income of under $22,000 per year to support herself and her two children? (She lost two of the jobs, by the way, when the transmission on her car broke and there was no money for repairs.)

    I wonder if perhaps the lowly that the Apostle Paul—not to mention Jesus—would have me associate with are the people that I, with all my natural human prejudice, look down on, based on my life experience with people I don’t understand and perhaps don’t care to understand.

    It does seem to me, in all honesty, that we all harbor some kind of superiority complex—that we all look down on somebody. Maybe that’s why humility is one of those threads that we see running through the Bible from start to finish. God in His power is constantly humbling somebody who is puffed up with pride, power, and prejudice.

    Paul himself, who was seemingly obsessed with instructing early Christians to humble themselves, was humbled in a big way, after all, on that road to Damascus.

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A funny thing happened while I’ve been busy cruising the coastlines and bumming around on the beaches of southern Belize on my bike this week, going wherever my free spirit moves me.

This guy’s book came out.

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It’s now available online at Amazon, Barnes & Nobleand at WestBow Press’s site at this link, so order now.

Photo of the back cover by my daughter Amy who received the copy I pre-ordered for her. I should have my complimentary copies waiting for pickup at the post office when I get back to Old San Ignacio Town in a couple of days, Lord willing and the creeks don't rise. Look forward to seeing it myself.

Photo of the back cover by my daughter Amy who received the copy I pre-ordered for her. I should have my complimentary copies waiting for pickup at the post office when I get back to Old San Ignacio Town in a couple of days, Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise. Look forward to seeing it myself.

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