Category Archives: Peace

I March For My Niece

My niece, Emely, is nine years old. She is bright, and funny, and loves to read, and loves math, and wants to become a singer and actress. A couple of years ago she had a list of books she wanted me to buy for her. Of course, as a bibliophile, I complied and bought all the books she asked me for and more. When I visited her again, she told me about one of the books I had given her.img_7249

I still remember when Emely started school. Since Emely grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, when she started school she didn’t speak English. She learned the language from her teachers and her classmates. On one occasion, when I asked her to speak Spanish with us and use English for other conversations in order to help her stay bilingual, she said something that shook me to my core. “Spanish is UUUUGLY!” she said. With a heavy heart, I asked her why she said that. She said that everyone in school said it. Spanish is ugly. English is beautiful.

I have talked with Emely about the importance of learning as many languages as she can. I have told her about the importance of using both English and Spanish to communicate, and to take any opportunity she might have in the future at school to learn other languages. I have told her how proud we are of her. I have continued to make sure that she is proud of her Mexican heritage and that she understands what it means to be a USAmerican too. I have shared with her my own Puerto Rican culture and heritage and have encouraged her to adopt what she might want to adopt from it. I have shared with her how wonderful it is to have a non-traditional family, and what a blessing it is that she has a wonderful, supportive, caring mother, and two dads, and so many uncles and aunts, and siblings who live in different homes, and a madrina and a padrino who care deeply for her.

img_7149Today, as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and sexual predator took the oath of office as President, I worry about Emely and her future as a Latina woman growing up in the USA. I know I cannot protect Emely or her brother all the time. I also know that her parents’ immigration status prevents them from providing all the protections that she – both of them, my niece and my nephew – deserve. But there are some things I can do. I can join the RESISTANCE and stand up for my niece.

And so, Emely, I will march tomorrow, Saturday, January 21st. Emely, I will answer the invitation from other women around the USA and the world to stand up to injustices against women. Even though you might be too young to understand, I will march because I love you, because I respect you, and because I believe in you as a woman.

There are also other reasons why I march in solidarity with my niece tomorrow. These are not the only ones, but here are some reasons to march:

I march because I believe that my niece Emely’s brown body is hers and only hers. No one, no matter what position of authority they might have, even if it’s the Presidency of the USA, has the right to touch your brown body, let alone grab it violently and without permission.

I march because I believe that you have the right to education, and that you have the right to make choices as to how far you want to take your education and what profession to pursue or not pursue. You have the right to access a job that is suitable to your abilities and your passions, and to be paid fairly and at the same rate than any male who will do the same job.img_9337

I march because, when the time comes for you to make choices about your body, it should be you, and only you, who make those decisions. Because your brown body is yours and deserves to be respected and honored. Because your brown skin is beautiful, and normal, and is neither “exotic” nor a stereotype to be paraded at the whim of those with power.

I march because I know that your parents can’t be exposed to deportation and because I want to continue being your uncle, not having to be your foster parent should something were to happen to my brother- and sister-in-law.

I march because I believe that, although you have been raised Roman Catholic, you should have the right to make the decision that makes YOU comfortable. I march because, if in the future you want to wear a hijab, you should be able to do it without fear of intimidation. I march because if in the future you choose not to believe in anything, you should not be punished for having no religion.

I march because I believe that you should feel safe in wearing whatever the hell you want to wear in public. I march because I believe that you should feel safe walking down the street and that no one should be cat-calling you, or intimidating you, or threatening your life and safety.

I march because I believe that you should be free to choose to love whomever you want to love, just as I love your uncle who gave me the blessing of being welcomed by this wonderful family that now both you and I, as outsiders, call “nuestra familia.” I march because I believe that you should love as many people as you wish to love and not being condemn for it.

I march because, if I march today, I know… I know… that by the time your Quinceañera comes, this will be a safer place for you and all your loved ones.

I could continue listing reasons to march, Emely, but I can’t. My eyes are filled with tears – you know how much I cry – and I can’t write anymore. But be sure, sobrina, I will march for you. I march for you, mi querida sobrina. I march because I know that staying home is not an option.

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Filed under Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, familia, Feminism, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, History, Human Rights, Identidad, Identity, immigration, justice, Latino, niña, niñez, niño, Peace, race, racism, resistance, Social Movements, United States, USA, Women rights

I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

Vigil For LGBTQ Orlando Victims — Vigilia por las víctimas LGBTQ de Orlando

I shared these words with the Madison community during a vigil in honor of the victims of the recent massacre in Orlando. | Compartí estas palabras con la comunidad de Madison durante una vigilia en honor a las víctimas de la reciente masacre en Orlando.


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Rainbow flag with the names of the victims of the Orlando massacre. | Arcoiris de banderas con los nombres de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando.

Buenas tardes, y gracias por decir “presente” en esta vigilia de recordación de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Orlando. Soy el Rvdo. J. Manny Santiago, director ejecutivo de “The Crossing” un ministerio ecuménico para estudiantes en la Universidad de Wisconsin – Madison. Estaré compartiendo con ustedes unas palabras en español y luego en inglés. | Good afternoon and thank you for being here at this vigil honoring the siblings we lost in Orlando. I am the Rev. J. Manny Santiago, Executive Director of The Crossing campus ministry at the UW-Madison. I will share some words in Spanish first and then in English.

Español

No es fácil para mí el encontrar las palabras para compartir con nuestra comunidad. Hay ocasiones en el ministerio cuando tragedias como la que hemos sufrido nos dejan así: sin palabras, con dolor, con furia y confusión. Al mismo tiempo, sabemos que necesitamos levantar nuestras voces, ya sea para animarnos los unos a los otros, para denunciar injusticias o, en ocasiones, hasta para cuestionar la bondad de Dios cuando solo que podemos ver es violencia y muerte. Todo eso es parte del proceso de duelo y nadie nos debe decir que no sintamos estas cosas. Para mí, he pasado por todas esas etapas en menos de una semana: he sentido dolor, rabia, miedo, confusión y hasta he cuestionado la bondad de Dios que sirvo.

¿Por qué? Pues porque la tragedia de Orlando me ha tocado muy de cerca. No solamente tengo familia en Orlando – algunos de los cuales asisten al Club Pulse de vez en cuando – sino que, igual que la mayoría de las víctimas, soy Latino, puertorriqueño y abiertamente gay. Sí, soy un hombre Latino, pastor y gay. Desde pequeño escuché que esas cosas no podrían vivir juntas en una sola persona. Ese discurso de odio y rechazo que escuché de pequeño en la Iglesia me llevó a cuestionar, no solo mi identidad, sino el mismo amor de Dios y mi familia. Hoy muchas personas – políticos, líderes religiosos, etc. – están tratando de borrar las identidades de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando. No queremos reconocer que son personas LGBTQ, no queremos reconocer que en su mayoría eran Latinos, no queremos reconocer que había entre ellos personas sin documentos… Algunas personas incluso han intentado poner a nuestras comunidades Latinas o LGBTQ en contra de la comunidad Musulmana.

Para mí, como persona de fe, Latino, puertorriqueño, gay, quiero dejarle saber a todas las personas que estamos tratando de hacer sentido de la tragedia: no va a ser un proceso fácil. Necesitamos crear espacios para procesar el dolor, el miedo, e inclusive para cuestionar la bondad de Dios. Pero en ningún momento podemos dejar de luchar por la justicia, por la paz, por reformas legislativas que ayuden a las comunidades de minoría. Reconozcamos que, en especial en nuestras comunidades Latinas, es tiempo de rechazar el machismo, la homofobia, la violencia, el racismo, la islamofobia y el heterosexismo que tanto permea entre nosotros. Es tiempo de levantarnos en unidad, en honor a todas las victimas de tragedias como esta y decir: ¡BASTA!

Que el Dios que se revela de muchas formas y de muchos nombres nos llene de valor, de amor, de sabiduría y de paz para hacer el trabajo…

___

English

It is not easy for me to find the words to share with you today. There are moments in ministry when tragedies like the one we have just witnessed leave us like this: without words, in pain, furious, and confused. At the same time, we know that we must lift up our voices, whether to support each other, to denounce injustices and even, on occasion, to question God’s goodness when the only thing we can see is violence and death. All this is part of the mourning process and nobody should tell us that we should not have these feelings. As for me, I have gone through all of these stages in the past week: I have been in pain, furious, scared, confused, and yes, I have questioned God’s goodness.

Why? Because the tragedy in Orlando is too close to me. I have family in Orlando – some of whom frequent Pulse Club – but also because, like the majority of the victims, I am Latino, Puerto Rican and openly queer. Yes, I am a gay, Latino pastor. Since childhood I’ve heard that these things cannot coexist. This discourse of hatred and rejection that I heard in Church brought me to question, not only my identity as a human being, but also God’s and my family’s love towards me. Today, many people – politicians and religious leaders in particular – are trying to erase the many identities that the victims embodied. Many do not want to recognize that the victims where LGBTQ, they do not want to recognize that the victims were Latino, they don’t want to recognize that among them there were people without proper documentation to work in the USA… Some have even tried to put our LGBTQ and Latino communities against the Muslim community.

As for me, as a person of faith, as a Latino, a Puerto Rican, and gay, I want to make it clear to all: trying to make sense of this tragedy will not be easy. We must build spaces to process the pain, the fear, and even to question God’s goodness. But under no circumstances must we stop working for justice, for peace, and for legislative reforms that would support minority communities. We, Latinos, must recognize that it is time to reject our machismo, our homophobia, our worshiping of death and violence, our Islamophobia, our racism, and our heterosexism. It is time to rise up, together, in honor of these victims and all the other victims of past violence, and say: ENOUGH!

May the God who is revealed in many forms grant us courage, and love, and wisdom, and peace for the work ahead of us…

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Filed under Church, Culture, Dios, Español, ethnicity, familia, Gay, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Identidad, Identity, iglesia, immigration, justice, Latino, Lesbian, LGBTQ, ministry, Peace, Puerto Rico, Queer, race, racism, Teología, Theology, trans, United States, USA

Please, Keep Your Prayers, We Don’t Need Them!

I hate, I reject your festivals;

    I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies.

If you bring me your entirely burned offerings and gifts of food—

        I won’t be pleased;

    I won’t even look at your offerings of well-fed animals.

Take away the noise of your songs;

        I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

        and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5.21-24

 

Let me start by saying that I am not saying that prayers are a bad thing. If they help you process the awfulness of recent events and of the systemic extermination of black individuals from US society, then use prayer. But I want to make something clear: prayers alone are not keeping black, brown and other minority individuals safe. No matter how much you pray, no matter to whom you pray, no matter how strong your faith is, no matter how powerful your god/goddess/spirit/divine being is, prayers are not working.

Upon hearing the news about the massacre of black sisters and brothers by a white terrorist at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, what first came to mind were the words from God that the prophet Amos shares in his book. Immediately I knew that many of my friends and colleagues were going to start posting images of candles and words of prayer on their social media platforms. It is always the same pattern: hear the news of a white individual – police, young man, white supremacist, state-sponsored executioners paid by tax dollars… – and immediately there is outrage by allies and people of color alike, followed by posts on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and prayer vigils.

Black lives matter All of these are fine. Use whatever means you have at your disposal to process the rage, the hurt, the fear and the pain. But again, hear this: NO PRAYER, NO GOD, NO POST is helping save black, brown and other minority individuals from the systemic purge that we are experiencing.

The prophet Amos states that the God of the people of Israel is disgusted with so much ritual with no action. When prayer is not followed by actions of justice, it becomes hollowed. As I interpret my relationship with God, God depends on us working together to change the world. This is collaboration. And I believe that we are way past time to take action.

Here is what I propose, particularly to my white, Anglo/Euro-American friends and allies: shut up, listen, and act. I don’t care that your best friend is black. I don’t care that your sons and daughters are adopted from Asian countries. I don’t care that your significant other is Latin@. This systemic purge is not affecting you as a white individual as it is affecting us as people of color. Thank you for your solidarity, but please let be our voices that ones that are heard. Do you want to know what it feels like to be black in the United States? Ask your friend! Do you want to know what it feels to be a racial minority? Ask your children or your spouse or your best friend or whomever it is that you have used as an excuse to state that you know what we are going through. But don’t pretend that you will ever understand the fear. I am Latino, queer and cisgender. I can only tell you what MY fear is. I cannot speak for my black siblings or my trans siblings. I cannot speak for my female-identified siblings either. I can only speak of my experience. The only experience that a white person can speak of in the United States is that of privilege (yes, even those who are poor. More on how this plays out here: http://thefeministbreeder.com/explaining-white-privilege-broke-white-person)

There are other things that I would like to share about what can be done instead of prayers to change this situation. This is not a comprehensive list, and I encourage you to post your own ideas and recommendations on the comments below. Just be respectful and civil on your comments. I monitor the comments on my page and will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, LGB-phobia, transphobia, misogyny, ableism, or any other form of hate speech.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Reach out to people of color in your communities. Be intentional in this reaching out. Form friendships and alliances.
  2. If you are white, recognize your privilege. Recognize that the system in which we currently live was created for you. You might be a fifth generation trailer park kid, but the founding people of this country were only interested in the wellbeing of the white, Anglo establishment. Things have not changed much throughout the years, and your skin color grants your privileges that are still unreachable to the rest of us.
  3. Learn about the history of privilege in the USA. Learn about the slave trade and the uprooting of millions of people from their lands. Learn about the stealing of lands from Native peoples. Learn about the snatching of land from Mexico. Learn about the invasion on Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Marshall Islands. Learn about the USA’s role in placing blood-thirsty dictators in the rest of America and in the Middle East… Learn the history of your privilege!
  4. When you see racism happening, denounce it! Publicly and loud. Don’t just lift up a prayer for the victim… ACT! We – people of color – are literally taking bullets because we are speaking up on our rights to walk on the streets, use public pools, pray in our sanctuaries… Why are you still so afraid of speaking up? Believe me, nobody is going to take out a gun to shoot YOU for speaking up. Not the police, not the KKK member, not the “unstable young man”.
  5. Use the right language when talking about these events: these are not “mentally unstable young men”; they are white supremacists with a desire to exterminate black, brown and other minorities. These are not “unrelated events”; these are all part of the systemic extermination of non-white individuals in the USA. Language matters. How we communicate what is happening will counteract the fallacies that the media create around these acts of terror.
  6. To my Latino and Latina siblings: recognize that the violence against black individuals is just the tip of the iceberg. You and I are marked for systemic extermination too. Additionally, recognize that racism exists in our communities.
  7. Let us scream, shout, cry, curse… This is fucking terrifying and we need to express our fears! We might even say “you” when talking to you about the terror that the white majority is inflicting on us. Just take it. We are not “coming for you”, we just need to express the panic we are feeling right now and we are NOT colorblind; we see that you are white.
  8. Related to that, we do not need you to “allow” us to do anything. We are going to do it because we are entitled to do it as human beings, not because a white person grants us permission.
  9. Be present, but don’t take over. Listen. Ask questions. Answer if we ask, not before.
  10. Do not be afraid of engaging your own family or friends in conversations about racial relations and your own privilege as white people. If you are going to be an ally and help change the system, it is not to us – people of color – that you have to be talking to. It is to your grandparents and your aunts; to your white co-workers and nephews and nieces. It is to your next door neighbor and your golf buddies…

I am sure I will come up with more ideas as I continue to process all these events. But in the meantime, we can start with this list. Just keep in mind this: God despises hollow prayers and rituals, but She states: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Black, Church, Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, justice, Latino, Peace, race, racism, Theology, USA

Yes, I Am Mad as Hell!

A few years ago, while working on a predominantly white environment, I experience much racially and ethnically based discrimination. Some of this discrimination came in the form of what scholars now call “microaggressions”, while other was more overt such as questioning my abilities, my qualifications for the job or the like solely based on my ethnicity and accent. For some time I just shrugged it off as ignorance and lack of education on the part of the people who did it. At the same time, I would do an effort to educate.

fist-md However, the discrimination continued. Not only that, but I started to meet with other people of color who were also involved with this organization and heard their own stories of rejection, discrimination and paternalistic attitudes towards them because of their national origin, their accents, their skin color and the like. The pressure continued to mount inside me. I felt like a pressure cooker… until it exploded. The event that marked my anger explosion was the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Trayvon Martin’s untimely death and its circumstances touched me in a way that I was not expecting. However, many things coalesced at once. On the one hand, another young, unarmed, black human being was being gunned down for no reason. On the other hand, the murderer was a white, Hispanic man who had let his white-privilege rule his life and how he connected with the world around him. Listening and reading the reports of this tragic death, made me even angrier. The media outlets could not grasp the idea that a Hispanic person could possibly be the perpetrator of a racial crime. They also had troubles understanding the complexities of race within the Hispanic communities. But more than that, they totally misunderstood the intricate layers of relationships among the different minority groups in the United States. All of this was too much for me at the time; and I exploded in rage.

I was mad – still am. For years I had tried to understand the historical realities that have made the United States the dangerous place for people of color that this country is today. I had tried to understand that not all white people were responsible for racism. I had tried to justify many actions of racism as ignorance and lack of education on the perpetrators. I had tried to understand that my own Hispanic community was dealing with our own prejudices on top of being the target of discrimination. I had tried and tried and tried to understand and keep my composure. But I could not do it any longer.

At some point I shared my feelings with the community. I told them how it was tiring to be trying all the time to make people understand that we – people in the minority – were not the enemy. I was getting tired of being an educator at all times. I was getting tired of pretending that the words and the actions of white people didn’t hurt me. I was getting tired of pretending that I was going to understand their historical and sociological circumstance. I was getting tired… and this feeling was making me mad and angry.

As I look around and see that things have not changed a bit since the murder of Trayvon, and that black human beings continue to be murdered and their assassins walk free… As I look around and notice that other members of minority groups stay silent… As I look around and notice that the white “supporters” keep calling for what I call a “Kumbayah moment” without acknowledging the centuries of oppression that have brought us to this place… As I look around and see that even the President keeps silence when everyone is waiting for him to talk, to speak up, to raise his voice and use his power… As I look around and notice that the violence on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri are becoming just another excuse for the white majority to justify their oppression… As I look around and continue to notice all of this oppression… the only thing I can say is that I am fucking mad as hell!

Yes. Yes, I am mad. It is not a rage that started yesterday or the day before or the day I experienced racism at that institution I mentioned earlier. It is a rage that comes from a deeper, way deeper place. It is a rage that comes from fourteen years of living in a country that treats me as less than my white counterparts. It is a rage that comes the time that my country was invaded by a white, US navy that tried to impose on my ancestors their language, their religion, their way of life. It is a rage that comes from knowing that half of this country was built on lies and stealing from the natives peoples and when that was not enough, of the other settlers who lived there and spoke my language and shared my customs. It is a rage that comes from knowing that millions of my sisters and brothers’ ancestors – and I am sure mine too – were forced out of their Motherland to be brought here in chains and by force. It is a rage that comes from all the rage accumulated throughout the centuries… throughout the generations… throughout the ancestors who still live in me and within me… Yes, we are mad, and yes, we are going to continue being angry for as long as it takes for the systems to change. And yes, that anger is going to be at times violent and at times peaceful. But I do not care anymore about what the white majority thinks of my anger. I don’t care about what my Hispanic community thinks of the anger that makes me be in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers. I don’t care that my white friends – even those who are close to me and whom I love – hear me saying that I often doubt their good intentions.

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to apologize for it.

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Filed under Black, Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, Hispanics, History, justice, Latino, Peace, race, racism, Sociology, United States

Everyday Hispanic Heritage Project – Dr. Ralph (Ed) Myer, MD

Dr. Ralph (Ed) Myer, MD

Sea Mar Community Health Clinic

Seattle, WA

Hispanics are a very diverse people. More than a common language, Hispanics share a common history, culture, and ethos. Countries in Latin America have welcomed immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. This is one of the reasons why so many people find it difficult to define who, exactly, is Latin@. This can be the case with today’s “Everyday Hispanic Heritage” hero.

Ed Myer was born in the state of Washington, USA, to Mennonite missionaries, who shortly after his birth moved to Puerto Rico to serve a small, rural community called Castañer. Ed’s parents served as medical missionaries at the Castañer General Hospital, and his siblings were born there. After their time in Puerto Rico, the Myer family moved to Mexico, where Ed grew up enveloped by the rich culture of the country. After finishing high school, Ed moved back to his home in Puerto Rico where he finished his degree in Family Medicine at the University of Puerto Rico – School of Medicine. He then served at the San Juan General Hospital and a residency at the Merced Community Medical Center of the University of California before moving back to Wenatchee, WA where he worked at the local community clinic.

After some time in the USA, Dr. Myer moved to Nicaragua where he served for many years in rural communities during the civil unrest in the country. He has spent most of his professional life serving poor or rural communities throughout Central America, Mexico, and Washington State. Currently, he is on the staff at Sea Mar Community Health Clinic in Seattle.

None of his patients think of Dr. Myer as a “white” or “Anglo” doctor. On the contrary, very few people believe him when he tells them that his family is actually from the United States. Ed is, for all purposes, a Puerto Rican-Mexican-Nicaraguan and a true Hispanic. His roots are in rural Puerto Rico and Mexico, and his heart still lives in the jungles of Nicaragua where he lived and served for so many years. Providing health care to the Hispanic community in the King County area of Washington state comes easy to Dr. Myer, as he understands this as part of his commitment to this own people.

Ed Myer lives a simple life. He is deeply committed to the environment and proudly states that he produces enough house waste to fill only one bag every month. He has spent decades serving and supporting peace organizations. Dr. Myer commitment to social justice has also led him to be a vocal advocate for immigration reform, economic reform, peace building, and many other important issues of social reform. For all the work that Ed does in his local community and all the work he has done with his Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Nicaraguan communities, Dr. Myer is today’s Everyday Hispanic Heritage hero!

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Filed under Español, Hispanics, Latino, Peace, Puerto Rico, Sociology

The State and The Church

Some time ago I received an invitation to join a facebook page called “Keep God in our schools”. It came as a surprise to me, given the fact that the person who invited me is a member of a Baptist congregation. Moreover, it was a big surprise to know that God needs of our help to stay in school. Here are my reactions to these sorts of religious questions.

I am committed to the Baptist principles. Over the years, I have grown to accept, cherished, and make mine the principles upon which my denomination was established. Back in the 1600s many Baptist people suffered persecution because of their understanding that the Sate and the Church should be different and separate entities. They also suffered persecution for the – then new – idea of giving every human being the liberty to come before God as his or her conscience told them. These were ideals that we take for granted today. Yet, these ideas were new to the people who grew up in oppressive religious regimes – both Roman Catholics and Protestants.

There are various wrong ideas of what it means to uphold the principles of separation of Church and State, and liberty of conscience or soul freedom as is most commonly referred too. I would like to tackle on them today.

First, separation of Church and State is a concept that serves the Church, not the State. When the religious realm was attached to the political realm, the church was bound to the pitfalls of the State. For instance, it was the prince who would appoint clergy to different positions. There are many a story of bishops and cardinals that were more interested in war and financial riches than in the spiritual well-being of their parishioners. At the same time, political leaders would call Councils to determine theological issues, giving little if no room at all for the faithful to freely come to decisions on matters of faith and theology. The church became a business more than a place to receive consolation and guidance from God through God’s own people who were empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It was for these reasons that some early Anabaptists (Mennonites) and later the Baptists as well, joined in calling for a free Church in a free State, wherefore each institution was in charge of particular needs of the people whom they served.

The Church is called to serve the spiritual needs of the people. Some churches have schools where children learn about history, math, biology, and languages, as well as about God, Jesus, and the story of salvation. These religious schools are protected under the law and are free to teach their students in whatever way they feel is the most appropriate, as long as they follow the basic guidelines and fulfill the basic requirements of education of the State. On the other hand, public schools are places where people from a varied array of faiths come together to learn. The learning experience is not only regarding biology and literature, but also how to interact with people whose social, political, economic, and theological views are different from yours. Public schools are places where differences are experienced and lived out in order to become global citizens.

If we were to “bring God back to schools”, the first questions we must answer is: What God? This is very important since there are many religious traditions and as many understandings of “God”. For many Christians, the God of the Bible is the same as the God of the Jews and Muslims. However, some Christians understand that these three religions have a different interpretation of who God is. Moreover, Buddhists do not have any gods, while Hindus believe in a plethora of gods and goddesses. So, what God are we going to bring back?

Second, there is a fact that disturbs me greatly as a theologian. Whose God is so small, so weak, so powerless, that needs of our help to “keep God in our schools”?

It is disturbing to think that some people see God as someone who has the need for us to put “him” back in the schools because some atheist have taken “him” out of the schools. These people must have forgotten the words of Jesus when he says: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18.20, KJV). Is your faith so weak that you do not believe this promise?

For all of my life I attended public schools. From kindergarten to college, I was blessed to have wonderful schools where I was formed as a professional and as a citizen. Many times, I bowed my head in the cafeteria to say grace before lunch. Every time before a test I would take a few seconds to pray in silence for guidance and wisdom to answer well. There were many a conversation regarding church and God in the halls of the schools I attended. I did all these because I felt called to do it, not because a teacher asked me to. In fact, I think that I would have felt very strange if a teacher asked me to pray in class or to read from the Bible (which, by the way, was one of the many books I kept in my backpack.)

A real believer does not need of the State to control his or her faith. A real believer does not need of a teacher to tell him or her when or how to pray. A real believer looks for the opportunities God grants us to come before God – who, I should point out, is neither “he” nor “her” – and to look for God as freely as God looks out for us.

I do not need to “bring God back to our schools” because my God has never left me, and as long as I am in God and God is in me, God is present wherever I go.

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