Elder Mediation Helps Families

A recent article in the New York Times (click HERE for full story) tells the story of a family who got help from an Elder Mediator with a distressing family situation.

An elderly client was calling her caregiver in the middle of the night and making unreasonable demands.  The caregiver was close to quitting her job.  At a family meeting facilitated by attorney and elder mediator Joy Rosenthal, the family discussed the issues and needs of various people affected, including the elderly person and the caregiver.  Then, the group came up with a list of things they could to to make the situation more manageable for everyone.

There are a couple of things I love about this story.

For one thing, it makes it clear that Elder Mediation is helpful in many cases that would not call for court action.  The issue of calling a caregiver in the middle of the night was not the type of thing that people go to court for.   Yes, it is true:  mediation is appropriate for situations involving very serious issues that could legitimately be taken to court.  But mediation is not limited to these types of situations.  It can be helpful at every level of conflict.  Indeed, the earlier a family calls in a mediator, the better.

When the family calls a mediator at the first sign of distress, the mediator can intervene before the family has become polarized and estranged from one another.   (In cases where family appears headed for court, early intervention by a mediator may save not only relationships but tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.)  Additonally, mediation enables families to consider options that would never be available in a court of law.  In this case, the family was able to intervene before the caregiver quit, and mediation enabled them to work together to forge a creative, win-win solution.  The result?  The elderly client was happier, everyone had a better understanding of each other, the caregiver was able to to keep her job and work more reasonable hours, and the elderly client was able to retain a trusted employee.   Even more important, the air was cleared, people understood each other better, and a better foundation was laid for future decision making.

Another thing I like about the story is the simplicity of the solution and the way the solution met the true needs of all the parties.  (To learn the exact problem and solution, read the story!)   As this story illustrates, sometimes the solution is very simple, and all it takes  is to talk it through.

As simple as the solution sounds, however, I’m certain it was worthwhile to engage the mediator.   A qualified elder mediator isn’t just a person who has decided to act as a middle man and "keep the peace".  A mediator, if properly qualified as an Elder Mediator, is a seasoned professional with advanced training not only in basic mediation skills, but also in mediation of large and complex family issues, and they will have specific training or expertise in elder and geriatric issues.    The mediator will know how to set the stage and manage a meeting in such a way as to ensure that all family members are heard and all interests are on the table before  options or solutions are considered to address those needs.  The integrity of the mediation process is what ensures that once a solution is in place, it is a good solution that does meet all needs, and not just a knee-jerk, slap-a-bandage reaction.   Indeed, that is one of the best values that mediation offers.    By going through the steps in a methodical way, as led by a expert in conflict management, families who choose mediation actually address root causes.  Conflict addressed in this way offers opportunity for families to develop better systems of communicating and making decisions, and thereby have the opportunity to achieve authentic healing and reconciliation.    It’s virtually  a no-lose proposition.

To find a mediator in your area, search through mediators listed on the web site Mediate.com, or search specifically for an elder mediator on the site ElderCareMediators.com  .   I’ve also written a guide to choosing an elder mediator, which can be accessed HERE.

(My own background that prepares me as an Elder Mediator includes approximately 160 hours of study of mediation techniques (including specific study with Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick in mediation of Elder issues and contested guardianship cases and study with Richard Blackburn in conflict transformation in large group settings), personal study in elder law, personal experience in elder care management, and graduate level study in medical ethics.  I am a member of the Elder Decisions section of the Association of Conflict Resolution, and I am listed on both of the above sites in the field of Elder Mediation.)

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Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure by what intellectual trick one could maintain the ignorance required to maintain a belief otherwise. 

It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  It was pretty obvious to me as a Sixth grader, when I learned the Seminole tribe of the swamps of South Florida was actually the refugee remnant who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Florida to avoid being rounded up and exiled in the Trail of Tears.  And, well, I was really sad when I learned the story and tragic fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Anglicized as “Osceola,” who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

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Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,

(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.

 

Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

 

 

  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 

 

The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure what degree of ignorance would be required to make one think otherwise.  It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  When I learned the Seminole tribe consisted largely of the remnants of other nations who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Floria and the fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Osceola, who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC). 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 

 

Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux

1942

The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY

 

Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?! 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans forcibly relocated out of their Eastern homelands and forced westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the forced relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil — from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 

Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE

 

Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)

 

(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

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Compassion in Listening

One of the interesting things that happens when one begins to coach others is that the skill being taught becomes embedded more deeply into one’s own, personal life.  As a mediator, one of the main things I do is to coach people on how to listen to one another. For, it’s not until we really listen and hear, that we can get to the heart of what the “other” person is trying to communicate about their needs and interests that give rise to a conflict.  What’s even more challenging is that often, a person trying to communicate a general anger or other emotion doesn’t even fully understand his own reasons, himself.  At such times, the mediator must really listen and then help the parties listen. 

Listening is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice!  The good news is that we can get better at it.  What are some tips and tools for listening?

One thing a good “listener” can do is to clean their own glass, to make the lens through which we see and hear things less intrusive.  In other words, when we remove our own preconceived notions, then we become enabled to hear more of what the other person is really trying to say and less of what we are expecting or wanting to hear.  A word to describe the process of removing one’s self (and one’s own responses) the word “mindfulness”.  When we become mindful of our own biases, tendencies, and prejudices, then we are better able to account for those and to try to filter them out.  All the insightful mediator is doing is removing himself from the angles so that the party may have a clearer image in the mirror of his conflict and his own response to it. 

The opposite of mindfulness is when we project a lot of ourselves into a conflict and hear only what relates to our own experience.  How many times have I (or you) listened to someone’s story and immediately knew what they should do?   Or how often have you heard a story and said, “The exact same thing happened to me!”  But, the exact same thing didn’t happen, and if the answer were truly so obvious the speaker would have found it already.  Personal mental responses like these are the mediation equivalent of raising a storm warning flag at a beach.  Friends who are just in the position of listening to each other can be on the alert for these responses, too.  When I “know” what my friend ought to do, it means I haven’t removed myself from the story enough to really listen to them fully and presently.  If the answer is too obvious, there would be no conflict.  Since there is some countervailing view, if the answer seems too simple then it’s likely that some aspect of the conflict remains mis-understood.  

Another way of knowing when we are putting too much of ourselves into a communication is when we feel tempted to interrupt, even if we only interrupt them mentally and not physically.  How many times, when a friend is speaking, are you tempted to think ahead in your mind to how you will answer them rather than continuing to listen to them as they speak?  For me, this mental feeling is like having two lanes of traffic.  One lane of traffic in my mind is the stream of thought about what my friend is saying.  The other lane of traffic in my mind is to be thinking about how I am going to respond to what they’re saying.  The problem is,that mentally I can really only be in one car at a time.  If I’m already formulating the response to my friend, then I’m not really listening fully to them in the present, here and now. 

So, next time your best friend is crying on your shoulder and you’re tempted to give advice, think of this column.  Instead projecting your own idea of “what is true,” or thinking “this happened to me,” and then telling the person what to do or giving them advice, try first to discern the reasons that their situation feels like to them.  Why do they perceive a conflict in the first place, what is that experience like for them?  What values, needs, and interests got them into the situation where they find themselves?

Most likely, there’s more to their situation than can be answered by a simple knee jerk reaction and response.  What our friend needs from us is not advice, but the feedback and mirroring to help them gain insight.  Then, with increased insight, our friend can find the answers from within themselves.  Answers that come from within and are authentic to lived experience are the ones that will be best in the long run.  So, the way to be a better friend is to help our friend develop capacity from within, not by imposing a solution from without. 

How to do this?   Ask powerful, open ended questions of our friend, as a means to help uncover some of those underlying complexities, different perspectives, and ways of increasing understanding of the experience which is being communicated.  In my next blog post, I’ll write more about that. 

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Mid Autumn Festival (Full Moon Festival)

Happy Mid Autumn Festival!  The moon is at its largest and brightest for the year. 

Here is a beautiful song where the moon plays a prominent part.

The name of this song is “Moon Hanging Over the West House”

A translation of the words (provided by a reader on the YouTube site) is underneath the video.  My friend who taught me about this song explained to me that the woman is watching the moon and thinking of her husband, knowing that her husband is also watching the same moon and thinking of her. 

In the same way, my friends across the world and I all watch the same moon …

我想象你,我的朋友!

我想中国! 我想念您,我的朋友! 

A link to the Tudou site:  HERE

 

 

古筝-月满西楼(演唱:童丽)the lyric is from an ancient poetry written by a famous female poet whose name is Li Qinzhao.
———————————–
红藕香残玉簟秋
red lotus flower is gradually fading and the bamboo mat is cold because of the autumn will come soon.
轻解罗裳独上兰舟
take off my robe and drive my boat.
云中谁寄锦书来
who sends the love letter of my husband to me from the clouds?
雁字回时月满西楼
the moon is round hanging over the west house and the wild goose will return their homeplace but where is my husband?
花自飘零水自流
the flower fades and the water flows.they are separate just like me and my husband.
一种相思两处闲愁
same kind of lovesickness but two gloomy mood.
此情无计可消除
I have no idea to eliminate this sentiment.
才下眉头却上心头
down from brow but come into heart soon.

Another version of the video on YouTube:

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A Bad Day

18 September 2010

Bad things do happen to foreigners in China.  I “met” one reader of this blog by way of reading his blog post he had written about being beaten by a gang of four thugs.  Another friend was whacked on the shoulder by a man wielding a machete, which caused a cut that required hospital treatment.  One interesting thing in these cases, where a criminal act has resulted in injury, is that the police are completely oblivious to the injured person’s need for medical treatment.  In the case of my friend needing immediate hospital treatment, the police refused to hold the assailant on grounds that they couldn’t hold him unless my friend filed a police report.  It was a case of either go to the hospital, or file a police report while one bled to death. 

The following incident happened to one of my young female friends in Guangzhou, in December.  The person designated with “Tammy” (names changed for confidentiality) is a Chinese female colleague, and the person “Tom” is the writer’s husband. 

As an editorial comment, it is not uncommon for traffic disputes to be “resolved” by use of force to collect money from an offender, with bystanders acting as judge and jury or thugs being called in to beat up a person who doesn’t want to pay.  Police often refuse to intervene when thugs are involved.  For this reason, factory managers and businesses often hire private security guards. 

Anyone who thinks violence cannot or does not happen in China is fooling themselves.  Often foreigners simply do not know about violence near them, or it is not reported. 

The rules are different, the foreigner is out of their own culture or basis for understanding, and bewildering and violent things do happen.  Moreover, as some of the quotations by the thugs below emphasize, while Chinese society in general is welcoming and friendly, there is also an undercurrent of resentment of foreigners.  There is a strong culture of China being for China.  Underneath some of that welcoming exterior is also a simmering resentment of the “foreigners,” a resentment carefully cultivated and fed by the government by way of stories about grievances and insults delivered by the hands of foreigners.  The simmering coals of that resentment is then fanned into anti-foreigner riot and sentiment whenever the government wants to fan it.  

I write this on a date when I understand the government has been actively fanning those flames against Japanese.  Today is the 67th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of China.  I would put the American film “Empire of the Rising Sun” on my must-see list for anyone thinking of going to live in China.  While that historical fiction takes place in a certain place and time, it reminds one of certain truths which apply today as well about how China will relate to a foreigner, and the foreigner’s place in that culture. 

Nothing can ever justify the way the Japanese treated the Chinese.  In my opinion, it is remarkable that China has put so much of that possible ground for grievance into the past.  Of course, however, in China nothing is in the past.  It is merely simmering on the back burner.  China has a very, very long view of history, something Western democracies would do well to remember.  In the Chinese eye, I suspect, Western civilization is but a flash in the pan.  Light a sailboat with a deep keel, things have a way of turning back the way they have been in the past, and for much of history Chinese civilization has been like that deep keeled boat. 

My friend, writing below, is fortunate that she was not battered any more than she was.  I quote: 

Yesterday I got out of a taxi and went to cross the road just up the street from my office, when a gold Honda come flying around the corner and hit me. The car did not hit me severely, just enough for me to feel it and make enough noise for the driver to stop his car and get out. When the driver approached me to, to my surprise he started to accuse me of hitting his car. I was confused and said in Chinese “I do not understand you” he continued to yell at me and then slapped me very hard across the face. My sunglasses flew off and broke when they hit the ground. I then took down his license plate number and went to leave. But of course because he was afraid that I would report him he grabbed me by the arm and would not allow me to go. By this time a huge crowd of Chinese people had gathered around me and helped him to keep me there. So I had no choice but to call my colleague Tammy to rush down from our office to help me. After I called her I called the Canadian Consulate to tell them what had happened and what should I do. They said they would call me back. By the time Tammy arrived the crowd grew even bigger and the driver had called several of his friends to the scene to help bully us around. Tammy and I had no choice but to phone the police. The police arrived within 30 minutes and asked us what had happened. Of course both sides had different stories so the police ordered us to get into the car (me, Tammy, and the drivers girlfriend) and drove us to the police station. The driver of course followed in his own car with his friend. Once we arrived at the police station all the officers there gave us very dirty looks and when the driver of the car arrived with his friend they welcomed him and were very chummy, chummy with him. We (Tammy & I ) asked the police, “What are we doing here, what is going to happen? What are we waiting for?” They did not reply.

Shortly after another police officer arrived with a small black kit and asked us all to go out to the car to examine the car to determine if the car really hit me or not. I had told them the hit from the car was not sever therefore there would be no damages. I had also told them I don’t want problems, I don’t want compensation; I would just like him to apologize for slapping me in the face. I even said to them I don’t even care that the care hit me, I knew it was an accident, but slapping me across the face is unacceptable. During the examination of the car, the driver had pointed out a smudged dust mark on the hood of the truck and accused me of hitting his car. I told him that is ridiculous. You can see clearly I have two bags in my hand that would not allow me to make such a mark on your car. Once we finished examining the car we all went back inside, and the officer asked me is there anyway you can drop this matter and continue on with your day. I said “you brought us here to the station, I don’t know what you want, all I want is for him to say sorry” but the guy refused and I said “no problem” and we went to leave. But of course they didn’t let us leave. They ordered my colleague to go to the office to fetch my passport, and other documents for proof of identification.

When she walked out, the officer’s, the driver and the driver’s friend followed her outside and started their harassment. They asked her “What is your certificate number? What documents do you have to support that you are a translator? Why are you such a stupid Chinese to help a foreigner?” We know your name, we know where you live and we are going to kill you, your family and your stupid foreigner friend!” When Tammy arrived at the office she phoned me crying hysterically saying “please can you phone your consulate people again to come help, I don’t want to go back to the station, I am afraid for my life” So naturally I called the Canadian Consulate and told them “I am now at the police station, they are holding me against my will, made my colleague go fetch my passport for proof of identification and the police and driver have threatened to kill my colleague”, and asked what should I do? The man from the consulate said please wait I will ask my colleague to phone you. Within 15 minutes a lady called me from the consulate and tried to give me advise, but it didn’t matter the police did not care about my rights as a Canadian Citizen so I asked her nicely to send someone to help me. Her reply was “we are too busy to send someone down”. I told her that “my colleague has left me here alone and she is too afraid to come back so I have no one to translate for me and that I was scared, could you at least send someone to translate?” She said “I have a phone number for a translation center that I can give you and you can call yourself and see if they had someone available”. Naturally the next thing I did was phone Tom and told him what was going on. He immediately got into a taxi and made his way over to the station. Shortly after Tom arrived, my colleague Tammy returned. I was so happy and so surprised to see her. When she arrived the police immediately took my passport and refused to give it back.  Tammy, the police and the driver and his friend started arguing and then Tammy started crying. I asked her why are you crying and she said they want to kill us, they are going to kill us.

I tried again to call the consulate and asked them to come, but they refused and so I called my lawyer friend in Shenzhen to ask for advice. He said just get out of there, but of course that was not an option. Every time we tried to leave they (police, driver and driver’s friend) blocked the door so we couldn’t. The driver said to the police “let me beat this foreigner boy, I will be more then happy to walk into the jail cell and spend 15 days in jail if you just let me beat the foreigner boy” all the police men, the driver and his friend stated laughing. Next they asked us to go upstairs and write a statement. I said “is this necessary, my lawyer told me I can just leave. I don’t want any problems”. They insisted and made us follow them but leaving Tom behind. While upstairs, they continued to harass Tammy and I. Saying they have taken our picture, copied our ID, found our address and will send someone to kill us all. Of course my colleague was so terrified for her 3 year old daughter, her husband and her parents who live with her that she again started crying hysterically. Again, I called the consulate to ask them what to do and can they please come down and help us. They again told me they were too busy and that I should write the statement and collect the receipt for it. Once the statement was finished, the officer had left my passport on the table so I took the opportunity to take it back. I asked the police, where is my receipt, they said “oh, but we thought this was a traffic case so we sent the file to the traffic police, we have no receipt for you” so they gave me some kind of receipt written on some kind of paper, I highly doubt it means anything. So next we go downstairs and are reunited with Tom. I told Tammy and Tom, “lets just go we have done all we can.”

As we were walking out the driver and his friend pushed me and of course Tom was there to stop more then that from happening. The driver started screaming and yelling and all the police officers came out and brought me, Tammy and Tom back inside. Saying we were not allowed to go until we settle this matter, saying we have wasted their time and the time of the driver and his friends. I told them they have no right to keep us here and we have a right to leave, we did not ask to come to the station. They said we don’t have any rights we are in China and they can do what they want to us. So they took Tammy into the back room where she disappeared for a good 30 minutes. I tried phoning her to see where she was and if she was ok, but no answer. While we were seated outside all I could hear was her crying and crying so finally Tom and I went around to look for her only to find her up against a wall crying hysterically again. I asked her what is wrong, what have they done to you. She didn’t reply only saying that she was so scared. Again I called the consulate to come help us and he said “if every time a Canadian is at a police station and we go running to help, then who will stay and work in the office” I begged him and cried on the phone to him “please you must come help us, they are keeping us against our will and have taken my passport and have threaded to kill us, what more do you need to happen to us before you will come?” He said “I m too busy, let me get the other lady to call you again” A few minutes later the lady from the consulate calls and asks what’s going on now? I told her “we are really scared they had separated us into different rooms and verbally threaten us and will not let us leave her alive” Again I begged her to come help us and her reply was “oh, I am really sorry, tonight is my anniversary dinner I am on my way to the restaurant, is there anyway you can settle this alone?” After that I knew we were at the mercy of the police and the driver. Tammy and I begged the police to just let us go, we don’t want any problems. The police finally said ok, if you want to go, you must sign this paper to say you are a liar and that you will never bring this case to court, if you do we will kill you and your family. We had no choice but to sign and leave. As we left, the police and the driver and his friend made it very clear they have our information and could kill us anytime they want so don’t ever try to bring this case to court or talk to anyone about it.

After being hit by a car, physically assaulted, held against our will, ID withheld and our lives being threatened and bullied around for 8 hours, Tom and I have decided to leave China.  …I am so disappointed my Canadian Consulate and their lack of help. What more needs to be happen before they would’ve come down to help us. . . .Things could’ve gotten a lot worse last night. What if we were severally beaten or even killed last night, would our government even care??

Be safe and thank you for listening. Share this story with all of your friends. We need to raise awareness of the lack of help we have here, and that fact that we as foreigners have no rights and no one to turn to when in trouble.

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Women In The Work Force

This is just an interesting article about women in the work force.  Here is a quote.  If you’d like to read more, click the link HERE

“Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day,” writes David Gergen in the introduction to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership. What are these talents? Once it was thought that leaders should be aggressive and competitive, and that men are naturally more of both. But psychological research has complicated this picture. In lab studies that simulate negotiations, men and women are just about equally assertive and competitive, with slight variations. Men tend to assert themselves in a controlling manner, while women tend to take into account the rights of others, but both styles are equally effective, write the psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their 2007 book, Through the Labyrinth.

Over the years, researchers have sometimes exaggerated these differences and described the particular talents of women in crude gender stereotypes: women as more empathetic, as better consensus-seekers and better lateral thinkers; women as bringing a superior moral sensibility to bear on a cutthroat business world. In the ’90s, this field of feminist business theory seemed to be forcing the point. But after the latest financial crisis, these ideas have more resonance. Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminist, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an “innovation intensive strategy,” in which, they argued, “creativity and collaboration may be especially important”—an apt description of the future economy.

It could be that women boost corporate performance, or it could be that better-performing firms have the luxury of recruiting and keeping high-potential women. But the association is clear: innovative, successful firms are the ones that promote women. The same Columbia-Maryland study ranked America’s industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives, and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past: shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks, machinery.

Click HERE to read more, in Hannah Rosin, “The End of Men” (The Atlantic, August 2010)

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How Good Is Good Enough?

4 September 2010

I’m posting this under cross cultural issues because I want to highlight a cultural difference between Western and Chinese thought concerning the ideas of duty and family.  Chinese culture is Confucian.  Western culture is not. 

Before I went to China, I had never thought about Confucianism or what it meant.  I still am not an expert on Confucianism.  Confucianism is a moral code, an attitude toward the world, not only a right way of living but a system of thought that also governs all of our social structures (including government). 

What are the fundamental tenets of Confucianism?  Well, the books I purchased while living in China are still all packed away, so I can’t go look it up straight from the source.  However, at its most fundamental level, Confucianism is a virtue based system of ethics, with a hierarchy of right relationships that one must honor. 

As stated in W-pedia (a site blocked in China itself),

“A simple way to appreciate Confucian thought is to consider it as being based on varying levels of honesty, and a simple way to understand Confucian thought is to examine the world by using the logic of humanity. In practice, the elements of Confucianism accumulated over time. There is classical Wuchang (五常) consisting of five elements: Ren (仁, Humanity), Yi (義, Righteousness), Li (禮, Ritual), Zhi (智, Knowledge), Xin (信, Integrity), and there is also classical Sizi (四字) with four elements: Zhong (忠, Loyalty), Xiao (孝, Filial piety), Jie (節, Continency), Yi (義, Righteousness). There are still many other elements, such as Cheng (誠, honesty), Shu (恕, kindness and forgiveness), Lian (廉, honesty and cleanness), Chi (恥, shame, judge and sense of right and wrong), Yong (勇, bravery), Wen (溫, kind and gentle), Liang (良, good, kindhearted), Gong (恭, respectful, reverent), Jian(儉, frugal), Rang (讓, modestly, self-effacing). Among all elements, Ren (Humanity) and Yi (Righteousness) are fundamental. Sometimes morality is interpreted as the phantom of Humanity and Righteousness[2]. . . .  Ritual and filial piety are indeed the ways in which one should act towards others, but from an underlying attitude of humaneness. Confucius’ concept of humaneness (Chinese: ; pinyin: rén) is probably best expressed in the Confucian version of the Ethic of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule: "do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."

Extending this concept of what we in the West would call the “Golden Rule,” Confucianism has developed a complex system of thought concerning how we ought to behave toward others.  Key to this system of thought is the idea of Filial Piety.  What is meant by this?  As further discussed in Wiki: 

“Filial piety (Chinese: ; pinyin: xiào) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead (including even remote ancestors). The term "filial" (meaning "of a child") characterizes the respect that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships (Chinese: ; pinyin: wǔlún):[5]

The Five Bonds

  • Ruler to Ruled
  • Father to Son
  • Husband to Wife
  • Elder Brother to Younger Brother
  • Friend to Friend

Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties were also extended to the dead, where the living stood as sons to their deceased family. This led to the veneration of ancestors. The only relationship where respect for elders wasn’t stressed was the Friend to Friend relationship. In all other relationships, high reverence was held for elders.”

A significance of this respect for Elder is also the idea of guilt.  A child must care for their elders, or they are not a good child.  I’m not saying that children don’t normally or voluntarily live according to duty, but in my observation, guilt and a strong sense of duty is a demanding taskmaster driving many interactions between parents and children.  A strong sense of duty is also necessary.  In Chinese society, children are expected to care for their parents in old age.  This goes well beyond anything that is expected of Western children.  Chinese children literally support their parents, in every way, including having the parents come live with them in their old age. 

The difference in how Chinese treat their Elders has certainly come as a big shock to Westerns who married Chinese, only to find out that their spouse expected them to purchase a house for the in-laws or, perhaps, expected the in-laws to come live in the marital home.  That is not a shocking thought to a Chinese person.  They may be aware that this will create challenging interpersonal dynamics, but it’s not surprising or unexpected, and every good Chinese expects to provide substantial material support to their parents.  But … that’s not actually why I’m writing. 

I want to write about GUILT.  How do parents get their children to provide for them in old age?  You got it!  They’re motivated by guilt! 

It took me several years to learn, to realize, that Chinese culture is embedded with a sense of guilt to a degree that I can barely imagine.  And, what is the opposite of this?   To my way of thinking, the opposite way of experiencing life is through GRACE. 

To live a life of guilt is to be bound by, and ruled by, an acute awareness of brokenness and sin.  We are always trying to dig out of a pit of being not-quite-good-enough. We are always trying to redeem ourselves, to buy back the good graces of the person we are indebted to. 

One of my Chinese friends, at one point, shared with me that he sent his mother a large portion of his income even though she was wealthy already and he was not.  He was in the beginning stages of starting a professional practice, and the income he sent to his mother would have objectively been better spent on his career and professional life.  It almost bankrupted him to send his mother something she didn’t even need.  Why did he do it?  Because his mother wanted to be able to tell her friends that her son was supporting her.  When pressed further, he replied that she supported him when he was small, so he owed it to her to support her now. 

Filial piety.  It really means something. 

But it also brings with it the risk that a person will be more valued for what they bring to the table rather than simply for who they are:  “I raised you, so now you own me!”  

Once upon a time, I became friends with someone in China.  We became quite close friends, not even sure why.  And one day, that person asked me, “Why do you care about me?! I am just a nobody.  [I can’t reciprocate.] I have nothing.” 

The question really made me think.  Why do I care for someone?  Do I expect something in return?  If I am honest, the answer probably sometimes is, “yes”.  But that’s not actually, usually, the case.  In the case of my friend, I was drawn by something unique.  Something that was more than what this person “gave” me or could ever “contribute”.  I realized that the real reason we were friends was that there was something about this person that made me see this person as valuable in and of themselves, regardless of what they brought to the “gimme” table.  Regardless of whether they could give back.  I was seeing someone who was valuable and worth loving simply because they were a child of God. 

Which brings me to something I realized was a striking contrast between my value system and some others:  I believe in Grace.  I believe that there is nothing I can do on my own to make myself “good”, objectively speaking.  I will always be imperfect.  I trust that there will be some others in my life who are willing to overlook my imperfect-ness to see through that and see the better part of me. 

So, what is Grace?  Grace is unmerited favor.  It is being loved simply because we are.  It’s not something earned or deserved.  It’s like the love a parent has for a child.  It comes from the Christian influence in Western Civilization, as stated by John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life.”  What does this really mean?  It means I have assurance of a loving God, a God who loves me, individually, and a God who also loves Y-O-U.  Each person, individually.  That’s how much the Christian perceives that, no matter who he or she is, he or she is loved by God, worthy for no other reason.  “Unmerited Favor”.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it or to deserve it.  When we say the word “Grace,” that’s what we mean.  A God who loves us so much that he would give his own life for us, taking our place to face judgment and condemnation.  And when we face trials in life or challenging times, we fall back on ample reassurances that no matter what we go through, our God is there with us to comfort us: 

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:11-13

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Poor Little Glen Beck: Liberation Theology Bites Back

Poor Glen Beck, he gets it from all sides.  But then, he must enjoy it since he keeps asking for it. 

(This video shows Beck receiving an application of Vics Vapo Rub to help him “cry” for a photo shoot …  Not that this kind of thing is new, it reminds me of the old trick putting an onion in a hankie … )
 

Why is Beck catching it from all sides?  Well, first he tried to marginalize the “social justice” Christians, then he caught it for calling Obama a racist.  Reclaiming the moral high ground, he has now retracted the racist accusation.  Beck regrets calling President Obama a "racist" a few months ago.  What he should have said, he now realizes, was that he didn’t agree with Obama’s "theology."

And what is Obama’s theology, according to Beck?  Liberation theology.

And what’s so bad about that?  Well, according to Beck it’s almost the worst form of anti-American evil.  Here’s Beck’s definition of Liberation Theology:  “I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim….That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about…It’s Marxism disguised as religion.”

 

Is it, really?  A classic logical fallacy is called that of “straw man” (a version of argumentum ad logicam).  The technique for this faulty method of argumentation is to set up a false position for one’s opponent that does not represent the truth of what that opponent stands for.  The fallacious position is easily rebutted and theoretically this dispatches with one’s opponent.  The problem, however, that the false target was what was dispatched, not the true position of the opponent.  Has Obama’s position, and Liberation Theology itself, been mischaracterized?  Is Liberation Theology really “Marxism disguised as religion”?  Is  it really as anti-motherhood and apple pie as Beck claims? 

It goes without saying that Glen Beck wants to catch it from all sides:  The more sensational he is, the more people will talk.  The   more people talk about him, the better his ratings will be.  The better his ratings, the more money his broadcast employer makes.  So why are we surprised that he, with encouragement from the corporation that supports him, pursues sensational positions?  The problem is that people are confusing entertainment, (i.e. the “sensational”) with what is “real”.  Is Beck telling the truth?

 

Not to get too sidetracked, but the issue of how Jesus’s teachings may or may not resemble Marxism don’t seem particularly relevant to whether Jesus’s teachings are worthy of paying attention to.  I don’t actually remember Jesus carrying American flags and talking about the personhood of corporations, either.  Corporations, Marxism, the Cleaver family of 1960’s American television, even apple pie — these are all 20th Century social constructs.  A return to an historically accurate interpretation of Biblical events would necessitate a return to a world of Roman occupation, a world of fishing with nets, drawing of water from a common well, and the washing of dusty feet. 

Of course, even if apple pie is a relatively new invention, motherhood is not.  Some things do still translate from the gospel directly to our daily moral lives.  With regard to this, I distinctly remember a story in the Gospel of Luke 8, when Jesus’s mommy bade him come to her, and he refused, saying that his true family were the people who “hear God’s word and obey it” (ouch!).  And in Matthew 10:37, Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”  Wow.  So, maybe Jesus … But, let’s not go there.  It’s actually a fact that Jesus’s teachings were not always easy, even for those closest to him, who lived right when he did.

 

Is it possible that the reason comfortable, Middle Class Americans find themselves so threatened by Liberation Theology that it actually hits something of a raw nerve concerning our responsibility for the poor and for social justice?  Is Liberation Theology evil and anti-American, or is it just uncomfortable for rich Americans who would rather have the security of a plentiful bank account, never mind that the poor are just outside the door?  

(The bigger, more important, question in this public debate is probably “who ‘owns’ public policy”?  I know many atheists and people of other religions who would object to the idea of Christians defining “Americana” according to their own theology.  But recognizing that public policy is about morality, and that Christian people have a vital interest in shaping public policy according to generally accepted moral standards, what can we learn from the Gospel about what morality is authentic to Christianity?  For it is only when we’ve discovered what morality is authentic to Christianity that we can then discuss how that morality ought to inform public policy decisions.) 

 

Is Christian morality represented by patriotism, motherhood, apple pie, and the Cleaver family of 1960’s TV, or is it something else?  For now, let’s stick with the issue that Beck uses against Obama, that’ Obama must be one of those … ahem …  Liberation Theology Christians.   If Obama is influenced by Liberation Theology in the morality that he brings to bear on public policy issues, does this make him anti-American, a Marxist in disguise?  This, then, leads to the question, “Just how anti-American is Liberation Theology”? 

The idea of “Liberation Theology” comes from the New Testament, particularly Romans 8, in which Paul proclaims that Jesus came to “liberate” the Believer. (“[T]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”) This thinking about “liberation” leads not only to the larger question, “liberated from what,” but also to questions about the mechanism by which that liberation occurs and our responsibility in the present world.  The answer to these questions forms the crux of the debates concerning liberation theology.

 

An article posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post contains a rebuttal of Beck’s claim that Liberation Theology is evil, written by the Jesuit Priest, Rev. James Martin.*  Martin says Liberation Theology was a “lifeline” for him and the the refugees he worked among in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1992 to 1994.  He concisely explains what Liberation Theology is and why he views it as completely consistent with the Gospel.   Rather than repeat any explanations, I quote him as follows:

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn’t see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more–uh oh–social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It’s not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It’s the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that’s disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God’s grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That’s pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

But that’s not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus. The poor, the sick and the outcast "got" him better than the wealthy did. Perhaps because there was less standing between the poor and God. Less stuff. Maybe that’s why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me." Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now. It’s hardly "the opposite of the Gospel," as Beck said. The opposite of the Gospel would be to acquire wealth and fail to work on behalf of the poor.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some thought its emphasis on political advocacy skirted too close to Marxism–including Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, John Paul didn’t shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland. It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more. But even John Paul affirmed the notion of "preferential option for the poor." "When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration," he wrote, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrating 100 years of–uh oh–Catholic social teaching.

Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. It’s also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help "the least of my brothers and sisters," i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles "sharing everything in common." Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama espouses liberation theology. But I do. And for me it’s personal. Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all of them) reflect on their daily struggles through lens of the Gospel. And the Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked. Oh, and it’s not only Jesus. His mother had something to say about all that, too. "He has filled the hungry with good things," says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, "and sent the rich away empty."

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our time. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989 by Salvadoran death squads, precisely for their work with the poor, as Jesus had encouraged them to do. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the redoubtable archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980 after standing for the marginalized, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator. So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year for their work in El Salvador.

These are my heroes. These are the ones who truly "restore honor."

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck’s opposition to "social justice" and "liberation theology" is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of devout believer. "Look to God and make your choice," he said during his rally on Sunday.

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.

 

Martin says it well enough.  Liberation Theology is not Marxist.  It’s not American.  It’s not Un-American, either.  It’s a response to the gospel.  Where does that put Beck, with regard to Christianity?   To the extent that Liberation Theology represents the gospel or provides a gauge of how we are doing as a Christian nation, what does it say about, and to, those who make and who debate policy in the United States?   

*James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything&lta target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/Jesuit-Guide-Almost-Everything-Spirituality/dp/0061432687?ie=UTF8&ampamp;tag=xaspl-20&ampamp;link_code=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969"&gtThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life</a>&ltimg src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=xaspl-20&ampamp;l=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969&ampamp;o=1&ampamp;a=0061432687&quot; alt="" style="border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;" border="0" width="1" height="1">. This essay is adapted from a post on America’s In All Things.  And again, this post quotes verbatim from the article posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post, HERE

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Poor Little Glen Beck: Liberation Theology Bites Back

Poor Glen Beck, he gets it from all sides.  But then, he must enjoy it since he keeps asking for it. 

(This video shows Beck receiving an application of Vics Vapo Rub to help him “cry” for a photo shoot …  Not that this kind of thing is new, it reminds me of the old trick putting an onion in a hankie … )
 

Why is Beck catching it from all sides?  Well, first he tried to marginalize the “social justice” Christians, then he caught it for calling Obama a racist.  Reclaiming the moral high ground, he has now retracted the racist accusation.  Beck regrets calling President Obama a "racist" a few months ago.  What he should have said, he now realizes, was that he didn’t agree with Obama’s "theology."

And what is Obama’s theology, according to Beck?  Liberation theology.

And what’s so bad about that?  Well, according to Beck it’s almost the worst form of anti-American evil.  Here’s Beck’s definition of Liberation Theology:  “I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim….That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about…It’s Marxism disguised as religion.”

 

Is it, really?  A classic logical fallacy is called that of “straw man” (a version of argumentum ad logicam).  The technique for this faulty method of argumentation is to set up a false position for one’s opponent that does not represent the truth of what that opponent stands for.  The fallacious position is easily rebutted and theoretically this dispatches with one’s opponent.  The problem, however, that the false target was what was dispatched, not the true position of the opponent.  Has Obama’s position, and Liberation Theology itself, been mischaracterized?  Is Liberation Theology really “Marxism disguised as religion”?  Is  it really as anti-motherhood and apple pie as Beck claims? 

It goes without saying that Glen Beck wants to catch it from all sides:  The more sensational he is, the more people will talk.  The   more people talk about him, the better his ratings will be.  The better his ratings, the more money his broadcast employer makes.  So why are we surprised that he, with encouragement from the corporation that supports him, pursues sensational positions?  The problem is that people are confusing entertainment, (i.e. the “sensational”) with what is “real”.  Is Beck telling the truth?

 

Not to get too sidetracked, but the issue of how Jesus’s teachings may or may not resemble Marxism don’t seem particularly relevant to whether Jesus’s teachings are worthy of paying attention to.  I don’t actually remember Jesus carrying American flags and talking about the personhood of corporations, either.  Corporations, Marxism, the Cleaver family of 1960’s American television, even apple pie — these are all 20th Century social constructs.  A return to an historically accurate interpretation of Biblical events would necessitate a return to a world of Roman occupation, a world of fishing with nets, drawing of water from a common well, and the washing of dusty feet. 

Of course, even if apple pie is a relatively new invention, motherhood is not.  Some things do still translate from the gospel directly to our daily moral lives.  With regard to this, I distinctly remember a story in the Gospel of Luke 8, when Jesus’s mommy bade him come to her, and he refused, saying that his true family were the people who “hear God’s word and obey it” (ouch!).  And in Matthew 10:37, Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”  Wow.  So, maybe Jesus … But, let’s not go there.  It’s actually a fact that Jesus’s teachings were not always easy, even for those closest to him, who lived right when he did.

 

Is it possible that the reason comfortable, Middle Class Americans find themselves so threatened by Liberation Theology that it actually hits something of a raw nerve concerning our responsibility for the poor and for social justice?  Is Liberation Theology evil and anti-American, or is it just uncomfortable for rich Americans who would rather have the security of a plentiful bank account, never mind that the poor are just outside the door?  

(The bigger, more important, question in this public debate is probably “who ‘owns’ public policy”?  I know many atheists and people of other religions who would object to the idea of Christians defining “Americana” according to their own theology.  But recognizing that public policy is about morality, and that Christian people have a vital interest in shaping public policy according to generally accepted moral standards, what can we learn from the Gospel about what morality is authentic to Christianity?  For it is only when we’ve discovered what morality is authentic to Christianity that we can then discuss how that morality ought to inform public policy decisions.) 

 

Is Christian morality represented by patriotism, motherhood, apple pie, and the Cleaver family of 1960’s TV, or is it something else?  For now, let’s stick with the issue that Beck uses against Obama, that’ Obama must be one of those … ahem …  Liberation Theology Christians.   If Obama is influenced by Liberation Theology in the morality that he brings to bear on public policy issues, does this make him anti-American, a Marxist in disguise?  This, then, leads to the question, “Just how anti-American is Liberation Theology”? 

The idea of “Liberation Theology” comes from the New Testament, particularly Romans 8, in which Paul proclaims that Jesus came to “liberate” the Believer. (“[T]the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”) This thinking about “liberation” leads not only to the larger question, “liberated from what,” but also to questions about the mechanism by which that liberation occurs and our responsibility in the present world.  The answer to these questions forms the crux of the debates concerning liberation theology.

 

An article by the Jesuit Priest, Rev. James Martin,* entitled “Glen Beck vs. Christ the Liberator,” posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post (and cross posted on the blog God’s Politics by Beck’s “Social Justice” nemesis Christian Jim Wallis), contains a rebuttal of Beck’s claim that Liberation Theology is evil.

Martin says Liberation Theology was a “lifeline” for him and the the refugees he worked among in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1992 to 1994.  He concisely explains what Liberation Theology is and why he views it as completely consistent with the Gospel.   Rather than repeat any explanations, I quote him as follows:

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn’t see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more–uh oh–social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It’s not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It’s the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that’s disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God’s grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That’s pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

But that’s not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus. The poor, the sick and the outcast "got" him better than the wealthy did. Perhaps because there was less standing between the poor and God. Less stuff. Maybe that’s why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me." Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now. It’s hardly "the opposite of the Gospel," as Beck said. The opposite of the Gospel would be to acquire wealth and fail to work on behalf of the poor.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some thought its emphasis on political advocacy skirted too close to Marxism–including Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, John Paul didn’t shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland. It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more. But even John Paul affirmed the notion of "preferential option for the poor." "When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration," he wrote, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrating 100 years of–uh oh–Catholic social teaching.

Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about. It’s also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help "the least of my brothers and sisters," i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles "sharing everything in common." Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama espouses liberation theology. But I do. And for me it’s personal. Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all of them) reflect on their daily struggles through lens of the Gospel. And the Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked. Oh, and it’s not only Jesus. His mother had something to say about all that, too. "He has filled the hungry with good things," says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, "and sent the rich away empty."

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our time. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989 by Salvadoran death squads, precisely for their work with the poor, as Jesus had encouraged them to do. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the redoubtable archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980 after standing for the marginalized, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator. So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year for their work in El Salvador.

These are my heroes. These are the ones who truly "restore honor."

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck’s opposition to "social justice" and "liberation theology" is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of devout believer. "Look to God and make your choice," he said during his rally on Sunday.

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.

 

Martin says it well enough.  Liberation Theology is not Marxist.  It’s not American.  It’s not Un-American, either.  It’s a response to the gospel.  Where does that put Beck, with regard to Christianity?   To the extent that Liberation Theology represents the gospel or provides a gauge of how we are doing as a Christian nation, what does it say about, and to, those who make and who debate policy in the United States?   

*James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything&lta target="_blank" href="http://www.amazon.com/Jesuit-Guide-Almost-Everything-Spirituality/dp/0061432687?ie=UTF8&ampamp;tag=xaspl-20&ampamp;link_code=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969"&gtThe Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life</a>&ltimg src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=xaspl-20&ampamp;l=btl&ampamp;camp=213689&ampamp;creative=392969&ampamp;o=1&ampamp;a=0061432687&quot; alt="" style="border: medium none ! important; margin: 0px ! important; padding: 0px ! important;" border="0" width="1" height="1">. This essay is adapted from a post on America’s In All Things.  And again, this post quotes verbatim from the article posted on August 29, 2010, in Huffington Post, HERE

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