Archive for the ‘USA’ category

Has America Been Saved from Racism?

August 28, 2014

After reading Ezekiel Kweku’s piece ( I felt some Americans’ view of racism mirrors some Christians’ view of sin: we once suffered under it but have now been saved and sanctified.

Under this model, people suffer under sin, but after they accept Christ they are saved and bound for heaven. In the same way, America was plagued by racism, but the forces of good conquered and now equality is on the march. Even some who are not Christian have absorbed this way of thinking, and it can be innate: in Taiwan the lifting of martial law and first presidential election are the moments some say the nation “became free, period.”

The “I Have a Dream Speech” and Obama’s Election are two of the most commonly recognized moments of the USA’s racial salvation, and it’s no coincidence that Martin Luther King and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama have been deified in the process.

We can all be Christlike, yes, and thanks to his leadership and many astute statements King in particular can be considered a national prophet. That said, we must remember that no one and nothing can “change everything” the way we would like it to. After the Resurrection itself sin persisted, even among Church members, as Acts and Revelation make clear, and people who once accepted Christ can still fall away, as Judas did. In US history, meanwhile, we can see clearly that African-Americans steadily -lost- rights and status between the end of the Civil War and the first World War, and that on police violence we’ve made zero progress at best since “Do the Right Thing” 25 years ago.

Personal conversions are real and moments of social change happen. On an absolute, universal level Christ has triumphed over sin. But on this earth nothing is final. Not the ultimate destination of our souls, nor the ultimate destination of our society either. We want a conversion or an election to decide everything. To be inspired by such moments afterward is good and natural. But our daily works, day after grueling day, are themselves crucial, as are daily examinations of conscience to reorient ourselves.


The Somber Ten-Year Anniversary

March 21, 2013

March 20, 2003. Watching bombs over Baghdad in the high school cafeteria just as the NCAA tournament began. Not believing my antiwar friends’ predictions of the future, which would indeed come to pass over these ten years as our messianic dreams died by the sword. I’m sorry. I wish for peace for our servicemen and the people of Iraq and ready to advocate peace for the rest of my days.

Microinequity and Vicious Cycles at Home and Abroad

March 10, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest column-post-comments combo is worthwhile reading.

The thread explores two ideas I’d like to say a little more about:

1. Microaggression and microinequity – that is, the constant little events that underline someone is different or of a lower status – fuel bad feelings and inequality and have a corrosive effect on the person on the receiving end, even if the person on the giving end has no intention to hurt.

Microaggression is a really common talking point in the English-speaking expat community in Japan. Here’s one example.

I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t stay in Japan or Taiwan anymore because they couldn’t handle never being fully accepted. It took me way longer than it should have to connect this frustration with the feelings American minorities have in their own communities. Then the little things that happened here felt really small. In fact, it became clear that Western foreigners in the East are a privileged minority.

James Baldwin describes the way the disrespect of others can poison one’s spirit in his essay “Native Son”, which I also happened to read this week:

This isn’t just a macro (societal) issue, though. Little differences in treatment are in my opinion a major cause of family rifts. Anyone who feels looks down upon (say, for having less “success”) resents it and things quietly get worse and worse.

2. We need to be more aware of how systemic inequalities created the world we have today and how we ourselves contribute to the perpetuation of suffering.

This sort of thing also happens in home life, too. Say you have an overweight family member, and everyone’s always telling him he needs to lose weight…and yet when there’s food left over after dinner, everyone shovels it onto his plates. The people complaining about the problem are themselves perpetuating it!

Likewise, social ostracism fuels antisocial behavior. For example, yakuza membership is largely made up of (1) children of yakuza (2) graduates of teenage biker gangs, who mostly come from broken homes (3) the burakumin, or untouchables (4) ethnic Koreans and other ostracized Asian groups. People that society rejected find their best opportunities are in crime.

One thing I’ve learned this month is that “the ghetto” is the result of public policy. From The Warmth of Other Suns: “The story played out in virtually every northern city – migrants sealed off in overcrowded colonies that would become the foundation for ghettos that would persist into the next century. These were the original colored quarters – the abandoned and identifiable no-man’s-lands that came into being when the least-paid people were forced to pay the highest rents for the most dilapidated housing owned by absentee landlords trying to wring the most money out of a place nobody cared about.”

Black neighborhoods got the worst of everything from city hall in infrastructure and services. (Hello, broken window theory.) No one was allowed to move out, and government housing authorities redlined/hugely undervalued their holdings as owners even as they paid out the nose as renters – which meant their wealth was being constantly devalued.

More Ta-Nehisi on how ghettos were created by elite discrimination:

Since inequitable urban policy reaped so much destruction, couldn’t equity go a long way to solving problems? Couldn’t city halls take a much more active role in identifying addressing inequalities?

I’m wondering now why the demographic differences between Indy’s Marion and Hamilton counties have always been so stark and thinking my own hometown is a place where there is much legitimate urban renewal to be done.

There’s much to do here, as well. Immigrants from Southeast Asian countries in particular deserve more equitable treatment. Personally, I’m resolved to never look down on anyone. I admit I’m not there yet. To never feel contempt, I’ll have to examine my conscience daily.

US Diplomat: “Spain is Only Good for Flamenco and Wine”

April 16, 2012

US Diplomat: “Spain is Only Good for Flamenco and Wine”
Polemical words from the number two of the OECD, who clarified that he didn’t want to insult anyone
El País: “España solo vale para flamenco y vino”
Miguel González reporting from Madrid April 14, 2012

The American ambassador Richard A. Boucher, Secretary General Adjunct of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), which includes 34 countries, surprised the attendees of a seminar about the Arab Spring this past Wednesday, which was hosted in Marseille by the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, with an unusual declaration: “No one wants to be like Spain today. Spain is only good for flamenco and red wine.”

The attendees were initially stupefied. Afterward, the only Spanish representative at the forum, Diego López Garrido, a Socialist congressman and ex-Secretary of State to the EU, took the floor to demand that Boucher retract such unjust and irresponsible words. Boucher only answered that it was not his intention to insult anyone; he only wanted to say that no country would want to have the unemployment level that is troubling Spain. Given this response, López Garrido sent a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, requesting that the Spain ambassador to the OECD in Paris present a formal complaint about Boucher’s “intolerable words.”

The incident reveals, in any case, the level to which Spain’s international image has deteriorated. Sarkozy is using Spain as a throwing knife against his rival for the Champs Elysses, the Socialist Hollande; Monti attributes the rise of Italy’s risk premium to the Spanish disease. Rajoy’s calls for “prudence” from his European peers do not seem to have made a lick of difference.

Bittersweet First Victory for Darvish: Bested By Ichiro

April 11, 2012

Darvish and IchiroDarvish (left) gave up four runs in his first inning; Ichiro (right) went 3-for-4 against him and is coming in to score. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

Bittersweet First Victory for Darvish: Bested By Ichiro
Yomiuri Shimbun:
Kai Nishimura reporting April 10, 2012

Box Score

Did Yu Darvish “have it” during his first major league victory, like his former teammate Yuki Saito did for the Nippon Ham Fighters on his own opening day this season?

Frankly, it looked like the number one pitcher in Japanese baseball was overcome by nerves.

In the first inning, he walked the leadoff hitter, Figgins, on a fastball that was way outside. After getting an out, he faced Ichiro, the #3 hitter. On a two-and-two count, Ichiro hit a ball safely past the third baseman, getting Darvish deeper in trouble. But Darvish’s control didn’t return to him then, either; instead, he threw more bad pitches that got crushed. He even walked Kawasaki with the bases loaded to allow a fourth run in his very first inning.

Ichiro hit a double to right his next time up in the second inning, [grounded out in the fourth, and] singled in the sixth, which forced Darvish out of the game. All the hits the Mariners got on Darvish were off his two-seam fastball, the pitch that had been his lifeline in America so far. After his third exhibition game on March 19, he had said the pitch was really responding well – “it really moves, and I feel like even my teammates hate it” – and he used it most of the times he needed an out pitch. He couldn’t get a handle on it this time, though. In fact, all his pitches were a little wild.

His other great pitches, like his curve, weren’t going where he wanted them to, either, so it’s safe to say he hasn’t completely adjusted to major league ball yet. Darvish came here after relentlessly polishing his stuff in Japan. Given today’s painful experience, one is left wondering how close he is to attaining his goal of becoming the Greatest Pitcher in the World.

The First Anniversary of The Great Tōhoku Earthquake

March 11, 2012

NYC Tōhoku Earthquake Memorial Service
Japanese expatriates attend a first anniversary memorial service in a New York City church the night of March 10. (Kyodo News Service)

“We Won’t Forget You”: Memorial Services for Victims of Great Tōhoku Earthquake Held Across America
Jiji News Service: 忘れない…米国各地で追悼行事

NEW YORK – On the 10th, cities across America, especially those with many Japanese residents, held memorial services for the Great Tōhoku Earthquake, which occurred one year ago. In New York City, about 100 groups who have contributed to the relief effort cooperated to hold a memorial for the victims. One person after another spoke words of encouragement for those who continue to suffer from the crisis.

Consul General Shigeyuki Hiroki and about 1100 others attended. After a moment of silence, local doctor Kamal Ramani spoke. Immediately after the earthquake, he went to Sanriku village in Miyagi to provide voluntary medical care. He continued to help after that by starting a psychosomatic medicine clinic in the area. “We won’t forget you,” he said at the service with conviction.

I Love You Japan ~For 3.11 From U.S.A.~ (Students from every state in the Union sing words of support to Japan.)

“Fukushima Will Absolutely Be Reborn”…1200 Pray Silently at State Memorial Service
Asahi Shimbun: 必ずや再生…追悼式で1200人黙祷

About 1200 people attended the government’s Great Tōhoku Earthquake First Anniversary Memorial Service held in the National Theatre in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo the afternoon of March 11, including the Emperor and Empress, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and victims’ surviving family members from across the country and abroad. Everyone prayed silently at 2:46 PM, exactly one year after the earthquake. After the Prime Minister spoke, the Emperor gave words of his own.

He said, “There will be many difficulties on the path to the disaster area’s recovery from this day forward. I expect that all our citizens will continue to extend their hearts to the victims, and the disaster area’s condition will continue to improve.” Prime Minister Noda said, “We are now one day closer to the disaster area’s recovery.” He said Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the nuclear disaster, “will absolutely be reborn. We will put all our energy into returning our citizens’ beautiful hometowns to them.”

Photo Album: The Disaster Sites Today…Let’s Expand the Support Circle!
What can we do to redouble the recovery effort? Gō blog’s purpose in making this album is not only to record the support efforts undertaken until now, but also to widen the support circle and bring more people together to shape the future.

Fukushima Protestors
Protestors hold a banner in front of Tokyo Electric Power Company reading, “Bring Fukushima Back.” These members of civic groups reiterated demands that the reactor be decommissioned and victims be justly compensated. (Uchisaiwai-cho, Tokyo. Jiji News)

Protest Song: 東電に廃炉 (Pun w/Double Meaning: Let’s Go to Work for TEPCO / Let’s Decommission TEPCO) – English Subtitles

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Democracy?

February 12, 2012

原文:Original Chinese Language Article
Featured on Front Page of 電子報:ICLP Bulletin 062 (Feb. 1, 2012)

What Does the Bible Have to Say About Democracy?
English Translation of Chinese E-Bulletin Article by James Smyth

Christians have actively participated in American politics since colonial times. Unfortunately, Jesus never mentioned the Republican or Democratic Parties, so the question of what political views Christians should have is a thorny one that can even make believers come to blows. Left and right wing advocates each have their own political interpretations of Bible passages like “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common ” and “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” and “Slaves, obey your human masters in everything.”

But very few Americans have discussed the following Bible story.

After the Israelites returned to Canaan from Egypt, they established a nation that was free and independent for 400 years. They had no kings. Besides times of crisis, when a “Judge” would emerge and temporarily lead the country, the twelve tribes were free to govern themselves.

But when Judge Samuel aged (around 1020 B.C.) the Israelites made an unprecedented request from him: that he choose a king to rule them. Samuel strongly opposed them, but God told him to “listen to whatever the people say. You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king… Now listen to them; but at the same time, give them a solemn warning and inform them of the rights of the king who will rule them.”(1)

The next time Samuel met with the Israelites, he warned them (abridged): “The governance of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and daughters into his service. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take your male and female slaves, as well as your best oxen and donkeys, and use them to do his work. He will also tithe your flocks. As for you, you will become his slaves. On that day you will cry out because of the king whom you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you.”

But the Israelites persisted: “No! There must be a king over us. We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles.”

Israel had three kings over the next hundred years, two of which were outstanding and devoted themselves to the glory of the kingdom. The fourth king, however, was incompetent, and because of that the nation split in two. What’s worse, most of the kings who ruled both the northern and southern states after that were weak and corrupt, causing Israel’s international standing to decline. Two hundred years after the death of Samuel, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian Empire, and one hundred fifty years later, the southern kingdom was swallowed up by the Babylonian Empire. Israel would not win its independence back until 1949(2).

I think that what this story can communicate to Americans is that sometimes a people voluntarily give up their freedom in exchange for something else like glory or security. The younger President Bush, a Christian, deeply believed that freedom was the desire of every human heart, so he thought that after the U.S. liberated Afghanistan and Iraq, their citizens would happily cooperate with America. Instead, the American military sunk into a quagmire.

What this story says to Christians about democracies as a whole is that sooner or later, their citizens will exchange freedom for national power, safety, welfare, or some other good. The same thing will eventually happen in the United States of America, the Land of the Free. Even though many Americans believe that government’s primary responsibility is to protect the freedom of the governed, and many believe that the U.S. is the freest country in the world, the American government’s grasp on its citizens tightens year after year (its airport security measures are just the most visible example) because the demands the citizens make to the government sometimes necessitate the sacrifice of personal liberty. The history of the Kingdom of Israel is a reminder to American Christians that though they may willingly give up precious liberty in exchange for glory or security, they will not be able to preserve that glory or security forever.

(1) Biblical quotations are from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
(2) The country declared its Independence in 1948 but had to defeat four invading armies immediately after that.