Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Making room at the inn . . . .

“Some young refugees who fled war in Syria now live in Germany.” Photo by Gordon Welters for the NY Times.
This photo accompanies an article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, January 6, 2018, intriguingly titled, "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History." When I saw this article and photo I immediately thought about the story of Tim the Innkeeper, told in my last posting (March 12). At least some families in Germany must have said to these refugee children, "You can stay at my house."

The article doesn't, however, tell us anything more about those children or any other individuals, instead lifting the "helping people in need" theme to a global statistical level: "2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity. A smaller share of the world's people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate. A smaller proportion of children died. The proportion disfigured by disease fell. Every day the number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $2/day) goes down by 217,000. Every day, 325,000 people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water."

Well, I welcome any and all good news. Thanks, Nicholas. However:

For example, that 300,000 people gain access to clean water every day is wonderful; but the number behind that number is of the kind we typically call "staggering:" 663 million people worldwide without good water. About 9% of the world total 7+ billion population. And then to realize that just that 9%, 663 million humans, approaches what some scientists estimate to be the long-term sustainable human carrying capacity of our Earth. If this planet is our "inn," we have massively overbooked it.

And then to realize there was a time not that long ago in "the long history of humankind" when clean drinking water was available in just about every nearby spring or flowing stream. What has happened? Overpopulation, over-industrialized "development." Which, requiring the massive burning of fossil fuels, has brought on catastrophic climate change (aka Global Harming). Those Syrian children are described as war refugees. But the Syrian civil war was brought on in large part by unprecedented droughts causing 1.5 million people to migrate to the country’s cities between 2006 and 2011, seeking help that the Syrian government was not willing or able to provide. 

The UNHCR reports almost 66 million people world-wide have been "forcibly displaced" from their homes  in recent years. And the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports 24.2 million displaced by natural disasters in 2016, the latest year figures are available for. 

So, clearly there is no room left in our global inn. Just more and more people in need. 

Among the many possible ways to respond to this Situation, I want to recommend supporting two organizations that Judy and I have long-time personal acquaintance with, and are actually Doing Something to help people in need. They are both faith-based (Christian) communities organized to be of service to people in need. The Alterna Community/Casa Alterna helps displaced people find room at the inn, especially in the Southeast USA; the Jubilee House Community/Center for Development in Central America helps people living in the poorest city of the third poorest country of the Americas find sustainable, community-based ways to live, and so avoid being displaced: 

Photo shows Alterna's Anton Flores-Maisonet with Carlos, just one of many people in need befriended by Alterna, on a visit to the Salvadoran consulate. We heard Carlos tell his moving refugee story (translated by Anton) to several hundred people attending the Koinonia Farm's 75th anniversary Clarence Jordan Symposium in Americus GA last Friday.  Alterna is headquartered close by in LaGrange GA, and we cherish a long-time friendship with Anton and his wife Charlotte. Their motto: Love Crosses Borders/El Amor Cruza Fronteras

We got to know and love folks with Jubilee House Community in the 1980s when they operated a hospitality house in North Carolina. (For some years enjoying Passover Seders with them, when they taught us to sing Amazing Grace to the Gilligan's Island theme!) In 1994, they moved to Nicaragua and set up the Center for Development in Central America in Ciudad Sandino, near Managua, where they (with volunteers from the States and other first world countries) provide services promoting health care, education, and sustainable agriculture and economic development. Photo shows a scene at the Nueva Vida medical clinic they operate in Ciudad Sandino. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

No room at the inn?

The Bethlehem Hotel is centrally located in the heart of Bethlehem, within walking distance of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. There are many shops, museums and sites within the vicinity of the Hotel.

A good news story, told by Marian Wright Edelman, seen in the December 27, 2017 issue of The Greene County Democrat:
Some years ago it was Christmas Eve and the pews at New York City's Riverside Church were packed. The Christmas pageant was under way and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was supposed to turn Joseph and Mary away with the resounding line, "There's no room at the inn!"
The innkeeper role had seemed the perfect part for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to remember: "There's no room at the inn!" 'Tim had practiced the line time after time with his parents and with the pageant director, and he seemed to have mastered it.
So Tim stood at the altar, his bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed, and awaited his reply.
 Tim's parents, the pageant director and the whole congregation leaned forward as if willing Tim to remember his line.
THERE'S NO ROOM AT THE INN!" Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed. But then, as Mary and Joseph turned away on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, "WAIT!"
Joseph and Mary turned back, startled along with the congregation, and looked at Tim in surprise.
"You can stay at my house!" he called.
Pastor the Rev. William Sloane Coffin then strode to the pulpit and said "Amen."
It was the best sermon he never preached.
However . . . . . . 
The word "inn" in the King James scripture version that created our most widely accepted nativity tradition is likely a mistranslation of the Greek word kataluma, which means simply something like "accommodation," at most "guest space," not "inn." Actually, there likely would have been not even a that-era equivalent of a lowly Motel 6 in the little podunk town of Bethlehem.
So we're actually told that the birth takes place in some family's living space, which in that era would likely have included space for at least some livestock to be brought in over night (thus the manger). And would in that era and under those circumstances have been the most suitable and hospitable place for a birthing.
That means Tim's version of the story is closer to the (possible) history. Not an innkeeper but some Bethlehem family must have said "You can stay at our house!"
The gnarly part of all this is that it is only if we buy the KJV no-room-at-the-inn nativity tradition can we recognize that Tim's version is so much more inspiring, his stepping outside a strictly scripted role to respond from the heart to human need, enacting the message that the grown-up baby Jesus would later deliver in the Sermon on the Mount – using the "unless you become as a little child" analogy.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Happy New Year" in Elkin NC

Every time I go to town (which includes West Point GA and Lanett and Valley AL combined) I drive past the remains of what was once one of the largest textile mills in the world. And I'm reminded of this poem, written a few years ago by Patrick Allen, who at that time lived in another of the South's many historic mill towns, Elkin NC.

“Happy New Year” in Elkin NC

I reached for the doorbell, careful
not to drop the wine
or to crush my wife's warm bread
and watched the steam rise from my
nostrils in the sparkling glass storm door
as the chime seeped from the house

“Read the news in the paper today,
about the factory closing
what was it, four hundred?
Just wanted to say we're here
we're neighbors
and if you need anything
we're next door
and maybe some wine
and bread would make us closer”
but it didn't come out like that
It just came out as,
“Happy New Year”
and it struck you cold and mute

“You know, I've noticed the buzzards
didn't come back this year
the way they do
and roost in that dead tree
around back

made it look like
Satan's Christmas tree”

“They move on when the meat's
picked clean” you said

“You know, I remember coming up on one
nesting in a cave just off the trail
I walked on my way to Pete's
when I was a kid.”

I could look you in the eye now
“It hissed, sounded like some demon
with emphysema
pathetic bird
desperate to survive in
the land of the dead

it flew off, though, when I pinged it
with a stone I carried in my pocket
for just this sort of thing”

Your head sagged, but
you managed to chuckle
in nearly a whisper
“Happy New Year”

If you're interested in the sad backstory, the story of globalization and financialization of American industry repeated over again across the country, here's a link to an online article, "The Fabric of Elkin: The Chatham Manufacturing Company"

“In 1988, after more than 100 years of local ownership, members of the Chatham family lost control of the plant to a Danish textile maker, which outbid them in a sale. But four years later, that business went bankrupt. The cavernous and mostly hollow factory buildings are now owned by True Textiles, which has roughly 100 on-site employees who make fabric for home furnishings and wall coverings. Even with this cadre of workers, most of the plant stands eerily silent and forlorn — a “ghost town,” as Couch describes it. The parking lots are weedy and cracked. The interior is dark and cobwebbed. Glass is broken.”