Monday, March 26, 2012

Whose Hoodie? Whose Justice?

I've been thinking about hoodies.  So have a lot of other people.  Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie  when he was shot in Sanford, Florida, and ever since  news about the case went viral, hoodies have become a symbol of the call for justice.  I saw a picture of the Miami Heat basketball team, all outfitted in hoodies taking a stand in the case.  I read a Facebook post from one of my friends serving a church in New York City calling on folks to wear hoodies to church this past Sunday. In New York and Philadelphia there have been protests called the Million Hoodie March.  And a group of congressional staffers held a protest called Hoodies on the Hill.

Martin, as everyone must know by know, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who claims to have been threatened by Martin.  Interestingly, according to ABC News carrying a gun violated Neighborhood Watch regulations.  But that didn't seem to matter on the night of the shooting.  For though Martin had no weapon--he was carrying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea--police did not arrest Zimmerman, even though he was found standing over Martin's body with the gun.  Zimmerman doesn't deny he shot Martin, he simply claims it was his right to do so under the law.

There is an old saying that "Clothes make the man."  In this case, according to some, they appear to have been part of the unmaking of the man, or rather, at age seventeen, the boy.  "I think the hoodie was as responsible for Trayon Martin's death as much as George Zimmerman," says Geraldo Rivera.  (Fox and Friends, 3-23-12)  Excuse me?  And a woman wearing a short skirt is responsible for her own rape?  I'm sorry--I just don't buy it. I wear a hoodie most every morning when I go for a walk.  If it's cold or rainy, I put it up.  Should I leave it home?  Wear something else?  Or is the fact that I'm a middle-aged white man going to make the difference in whether or not I am safe?

We don't know all the details yet in the Martin case.  But an unarmed young man was shot.  That should have been investigated.  Thoroughly.  And such an investigation shouldn't have to be dependent on a lot of people all across the country wearing hoodies and calling for justice.  It should be the way such things are always handled.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Lunch Lady

March is spring break season here in Florida.  Not just for college students who come from all over the nation to soak up the daytime sun and then party all night, but also for younger kids, their teachers and members of school staffs.  This past weekend we had a visit from a friend of ours who was on break from her job in a high school cafeteria.  She makes a very modest wage, and augments her earnings with a housecleaning job or two.  She's a pretty frugal soul, but still lives largely from paycheck to paycheck.

Our friend is the sort of school worker who makes the day a bit better for kids.  She has a warm smile, and a kind word for the students who pass through her lunch line.  They affectionately call her "Lunch Lady."

Earlier in the school year Lunch Lady began to notice that one girl, we'll call her Crystal, never bought lunch.  She also never brought a sack lunch.  Her friends would sometimes give her a tidbit from their own trays and brown paper bags, but she never had her own meal.  So one lunch period, Lunch Lady made discreet inquiry and asked Crystal why she never had a lunch.  "My Mom can't afford it," Crystal told her.  "Have you looked into any programs," asked Lunch Lady, referring to the school's offerings of free or reduced-price lunches.  It turned out she hadn't--she wasn't sure what she needed to do.  So Lunch Lady helped her do the necessary paper work.  Crystal was approved for the program.

A few days later, Lunch Lady noticed Crystal was still going without lunch.  "Hey Crystal," she said, "I thought you were approved for reduced lunch."  "I was," said Crystal, "but it's still too expensive--my Mom can't afford the forty cents a day."  Well that was more than Lunch Lady could abide.  She knew what it meant to be a single mom--she is one.  She knows what it means to scrap by--she has often done just that. And right then and there she made a decision.  Crystal needed lunch.  And she was going to make it happen.  So every day for months now, Lunch Lady has dug into her own pocket and coughed up forty cents for Crystal.  Forty cents that means the difference between a kid eating or not.

I'm proud to have Lunch Lady as a friend.  Would that more of us were willing to reach out even as she has.  But I'm also distressed.  Because I know there are thousands of other Crystals all across this land.  Crystals who've never had the fortune of meeting up with somebody like Lunch Lady.  For all our programs like reduced price lunches and food stamps, there are still hungry kids in America.  And that is unacceptable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Time Is It? Really!

Let's talk about daylight savings time.  Personally, I find it confusing--mentally and physically.  I understand that it was originally established to benefit farmers, and that's a good thing.  Farmers, especially small family farmers, need all the help they can get.  But is daylight savings time really helpful?  Has anyone polled farmers lately to find out what they think?

It is, of course, something of a misnomer.  No daylight is actually saved.  I mean, you can't put it in a bank and pull it out when you need it.  The bottom line is that we have the same amount of daylight--it just gets pushed around.  Instead of an hour more daylight in the morning, you get more at night.  But the total remains unchanged.  No savings.  Just reallocation.  Maybe it should be called daylight reallocation time.  That would be more honest.

I guess I should come clean here.  I get up fairly early in the morning, somewhere around 6:00 AM, and go out for a walk on the beach.  Just as things were getting so that I could see my feet when I was trying to put on my sneakers--boom!  Suddenly we are plunged back into the dark again.  And now it will be a good month before I see my socks, much less my feet.

I suppose I'm whining.  And with all the world's problems, this is really rather inconsequential.  Still, a guy should be allowed to grumble about something once in a while.  After all, Andy Rooney did it for decades every Sunday night.

I wonder what he thought about switching around our clocks twice a year?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Seminary Sorrows

I recently received a letter from my seminary indicating that they would be suspending their basic degree programs in 2013.  It seems that enrollment and finances are both running too low to continue functioning on the same level.  I suppose I should have seen it coming.  After all, it wasn't that long ago that the seminary sold their main campus and moved into buildings on the grounds of a local college.  Still, it caught me off guard.  The school officials assure us that the seminary won't completely disappear, but rather be reconfigured, transformed, to meet some of the needs of the wider church.

I am desperately trying to separate some of my personal feelings from all of this.  I made some of my most enduring friendships in seminary.  My theology was dramatically altered by my time there.  My faith was deepened.  I brought my daughter home to a seminary apartment when she was born.  The list goes on!  Obviously I am disappointed by these developments!  My seminary experience shaped my faith, my career--my whole life! And to think the institution that has meant so much to me may disappear from the scene feels like I'm losing a part of the very ground upon which I stand!

But the longer I reflect on it, the more I realize I am disappointed for another reason, one that reaches beyond the boundaries of my own small life.  I am disappointed because I think allowing such an institution to fail is a reflection on the state of the church itself.  Why has our denomination, which has historically placed such a strong emphasis on an educated clergy done such a poor job of supporting my seminary, and the other seminaries that are related to the United Church of Christ?

Will this serve as a wake-up call for my denomination?  For the Christian Church in general?  I don't know.  I hope so.  And maybe my seminary will emerge from all this a stronger, better institution.  But right now, it just feels sad.  Very, very sad.