All Souls’ Day: Everybody Counts, or Nobody Counts

In his post today, blogger David Henson challenges us to think about All Souls’ Day in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We know that “All Souls Matter,” he writes, but maybe the events of this year should require us to say aloud, “Black Souls Matter.”

We have probably all seen the responses to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that clamor back, “All Lives Matter” or “Police Lives Matter,” from people who think that somehow this movement seeks to make certain lives worth more than others, rather than to highlight the existence of fatal inequalities in our society and justice system.

There is a misconception that stating the value of one group of people automatically devalues other groups, when actually, it is the reverse that is true. It is devaluing one group of people that automatically devalues all of us.

This reminds me of one of my favorite popular authors, Michael Connelly, and Harry Bosch, the central character of his extensive detective series. In a few of the novels, Harry finds himself investigating crimes that others feel are low priority. Who cares who killed a prostitute? Why bother to solve the case? No one cares.

But Harry’s response is this memorable phrase:

“Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”

We are all human, and we all bear the image of God, even if sometimes our human frailty and brokenness may obscure it. Sometimes our brokenness, or our sin, if you like, is our inability to see the image of God in others; to value all life and to seek equality, justice, redemption, and reconciliation for all. When we devalue others, either on purpose or by turning a blind eye to their suffering, we tarnish our own divine image. In making others out to be lesser creatures, we become lesser creatures ourselves. 

If I want my life to matter, I must do my part to ensure that all lives, all souls, are understood to matter just as much.

This isn’t easy because we all like to feel superior to someone or to some other group of people. It’s an easy, cheap way to feel better about ourselves. I think that all of us do this in some way whether we are conscious of it or not: I’m better than that poor person, that badly dressed person, that socially awkward person, that black person, that redneck person, that non-English-speaking person, that genderqueer person, that gay person, that addicted person, that liberal person, that conservative person, that fundamentalist person, that Muslim person . . . the list can go on and on.

Some of these judgments are simply unkind. Others can be fatal.

So, on this All Soul’s Day I challenge us to be honest and to think about the souls that society and we as individuals have devalued and marginalized, and to speak their value out loud.

In doing so, we are not giving special value to these groups because the truth is that they already matter. Rather, we are recognizing their value and affirming that we should live in a society where All Lives and All Souls matter.

Everybody counts, or nobody counts. 

Let’s work toward a world where everyone does. 

Here’s my litany of souls that already matter, but that need to be spoken aloud. Who would you add to the list?

Black Souls Matter

Undocumented Immigrant Souls Matter

Refugee Souls Matter

Non-Christian Souls Matter

Non-Hetero Souls Matter

Trans Souls Matter

Mentally Ill Souls Matter

Disabled Souls Matter

HIV+ Souls Matter

Working Poor Souls Matter

Homeless Souls Matter

Trafficked Souls Matter

Sex Worker Souls Matter

Addicted Souls Matter

Convict Souls Matter

Souls on Death Row Matter

Only when we have said, believed, and most importantly acted as though all of these souls matter, can we simply be content to say

All Souls Matter.

candles

“The Second Cooler” Documentary Now Available for Download or Purchase on DVD!

Tomorrow, November 2nd, will mark Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration. It’s a festive holiday in which families decorate cemeteries and build colorful altars that they fill with flowers, candles, food, and pictures of departed loved ones.

11_01_dia_de_los_muertos

(Image credit)

One of the main purposes of the holiday is to remember and honor the dead, and so it is fitting that Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson’s immigration justice documentary The Second Cooler / La segunda nevera will be released for public purchase on this day.

One of the main purposes of Jimmerson’s film is to remember the dead, specifically, the thousands of immigrants who have died in the deserts of the U.S./Mexico border in their attempt to come to the United States. The film’s title refers to the additional morgue refrigerator, or “second cooler” that the Pima County, Arizona Medical Examiner’s Office had to build to accommodate the remains of unidentified migrants recovered from the desert.

The Second Cooler, narrated by Martin Sheen and dotted with colorful artwork and beautiful original music, is a kind of altar to the memories of these lost and forgotten souls. The film not only seeks to bring them into our collective memory, but it also demands that we consider why so many die in a desperate attempt to come to this country. Second-Cooler-Poster

The film explains how economic and political forces, particularly the NAFTA free trade agreement, created an economic crisis that impoverished Mexican farmers and drove them off their land and into migration. It also tackles the broken immigration system, which leaves many with no legal avenue for immigration and the abuses of the guest worker program, which trap some migrant workers in situations that are not far removed from slavery and human trafficking.

This film is a must-see for anyone interested in knowing more about the dynamics that have caused the influx of immigration that has happened since the passage of NAFTA, and for how the U.S. and its policies have helped create tremendous suffering in Mexico and Central America. The film is an eye opening journey that takes the viewer through political policy, Alabama textile towns, farms that exploit guest workers, Mexican factories on the border, Arizona deserts, and the Pima County Medical Examiner’s office to reveal the human cost of the current system.

Today only (Nov. 1, 2015), you can pre-order The Second Cooler and its soundtrack for a discounted price. Beginning tomorrow, Nov. 2nd, the film will be available for download and for purchase on DVD at regular price. I highly recommend purchasing  the film’s excellent original soundtrack, because all of the songs briefly featured in the film deserve a complete listen on their own. I also recommend the film for Spanish teachers like myself because it is completely bilingual, with interviews and subtitles in both Spanish and English.

Please help support this amazing project!

Price listing for Digital Download Packages (Regular pricing applies beginning Nov. 2, 2015):

Basic Package reg. $19.99 will be $11.99
Deluxe Package reg. $24.99 will be $14.99
Boxed Set Edition reg. $44.99 will be $26.99
Soundtrack reg. $4.99 will be $2.99
Unedited interviews reg. $2.99 will be $1.79

Price listing for DVD/CD Orders:

DVD regularly $24.99 only $14.99
Soundtrack CD regularly $6.99 only $4.33

Please visit The Second Cooler website to find out more or to place an order.

One final note: I had the privilege of helping in minor ways with the production of this documentary, but I have chosen not to receive any compensation for my work. I am sharing this post because I believe in the importance of Dr. Jimmerson’s work on immigration advocacy and social justice.

If you believe in the importance of this cause, please support The Second Cooler and share this post with your friends!

Ellin Jimmerson: Baptist Minister. Liberation Theologian. Immigrant Advocate. Film Maker. LGBTQ Ally. Craft Cocktail Connoisseur.

I’m caught this week in a crazy rush of pre-spring break grading and other tasks, so in lieu of the usual post, I thought I’d give a quick shout out to my amazing friend Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, who is a tireless advocate for justice, a theology nerd like me, and a mixer of most excellent margaritas.

If you don’t already know who she is, Rev. Jimmerson is an advocate for immigration justice and more recently she has been in the limelight for another cause: marriage equality for same-sex couples. She made headlines as one of the first ministers in Alabama to perform a same-sex wedding last month when Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional.

Rev. Jimmerson has written articles for Patheos.com about immigration and LGBTQ issues, but as of this week she has her very own blog, which I highly recommend that you hop over and check out. Her debut post “What is Q?” draws an intriguing connection between the “Q” in LGBTQ and the biblical “Q” source, and I look forward to reading more of what she has to say!

Rev. Jimmerson is also the writer and director of the award-winning immigration justice documentary The Second Cooler. If you are interested in immigration issues you need to see this eye-opening documentary! Borrowing from the documentary’s website, “The Second Cooler is a documentary about illegal immigration shot primarily in Alabama, Arizona, and northern Mexico. The premise is that Arizona is the new Alabama, the epicenter of an intense struggle for migrant justice. The documentary’s purpose is to bring basic immigration issues into focus. Those issues include the impact of free trade agreements on migration, the lack of a legal way for poor Latin Americans to come to the United States, the inherent abuses of the guest worker program, the fact that many migrants are indigenous people, anti-immigrant politics, the reality of thousands of migrant deaths at the border, and an escalating ideology of the border.”

The Second Cooler has only been available at limited showings around the country at film festivals, churches, and universities, but beginning April 17, it will be available online and on DVD. So if you haven’t been able to see it, your opportunity is on the way!

Follow Rev. Jimmerson’s blog or look her up on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with news about The Second Cooler and her other advocacy work.

Second-Cooler-Poster   www.thesecondcooler.com

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Why I am Pro-Choice (and Pro-Life, and a Whole Bunch of Other “Pros”)

Last week I hosted Isabel Montoya-Minisee’s essay about how she considered terminating an unplanned pregnancy–and even visited Planned Parenthood for information–and how that experience transformed the way that she related to women who face hard choices about pregnancy and abortion in their lives. She realized that instead of preaching against abortion, her time would have been better spent helping women in difficult situations bear their burdens.

Like Isabel, at a personal level I am decidedly pro-life. I have an unplanned kid as proof of that position. Finding out that I was pregnant again, while still nursing a ten-month old and on the tenure-track in a full-time university position (and without the benefit of grandparents nearby) completely freaked me out, even as a married woman with a stable income. It took me about three months to chill the &^#@ out. It took me even longer to get over the guilt of not being happy about the pregnancy in those first weeks. That’s part of the reason that Isabel’s story, with its intense feelings of shame, affected me deeply.

Of course, despite his unexpectedly quick arrival, I wouldn’t trade my second son for anything. However, the circumstances of his arrival did push me, a Christian feminist sitting the pro-life/pro-choice fence, over into the “pro-choice” camp. If I experienced so much stress over an unplanned pregnancy in my relatively privileged position, how much more difficult is a similar situation for a woman who has trouble feeding the children she already has? Or for a teenager who made a bad choice about sex?

And then there are other situations that are more troubling: what about the woman who is raped or abused, or the one who wanted the baby but then learned that it has a defect that is incompatible with life? All of those women have stories, like mine and like Isabel’s, that deserve to be heard on their own terms, and all of those women deserve to have a say in how their story plays out. It is not for politicians or preachers (or me, or you) to make or to be responsible for their choices, or to heap shame and condemnation on top of the burdens that they already have to bear.

So, while personally I am pro-life, politically I am pro-choice. But really, it is much more complicated than that.

My pro-life/choice stance is made up of a bunch of other “pros” that deconstruct the hard boundary that some people draw between these two positions. Ironically, many pro-lifers hold stances that actually lead to a higher rate of abortions, such as an insistence on abstinence-only sex education or a resistance to easy access to birth control or other programs that support women and children. If we are serious about preventing abortions and the unfortunate situations that lead to them, we have to do better than that.

That is why in order to be “pro-life” in multiple and meaningful ways, I’m also . . .

– Pro-Sex Education: There were things I did not know about my body and fertility until I was thirty years old and reading up on how to maximize my chances of having an academic-calendar friendly pregnancy. That is unacceptable. Studies have shown the positive effects of comprehensive sex education (not abstinence-only education) both in terms of teenagers delaying sex and using contraception. Smarter sex choices = fewer unwanted pregnancies = fewer abortions = A win for the pro-life camp.

– Pro-Contraception: And more than that, I’m pro-cheap and easy access to it, because access to reliable contraception radically reduces abortion rates. This is a no brainer, right? As many other critics of the pro-life movement have noted, putting barriers in the way of access to contraceptives shows that some pro-lifers are really more concerned with policing the bedroom activities of other people than they are with preventing abortions.

– Pro-Empowerment of Victimized Women (and Pro-Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence and Rape): I strongly feel that women who are raped or abused should not be further disempowered and violated by being forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their wishes. Women who want to end a pregnancy are seven times more likely to be abuse victims than other women, and denying them access to abortion can hinder their ability to escape further abuse. On the flip-side of this topic, to be pro-life and pro-women, we need to be advocating for better prevention programs for rape and domestic violence–and not just avoidance-advice for women, but programs that teach boys and men to respect women from the get-go.

Pro-Economic Empowerment of Women (and other disadvantaged groups): – 69% of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged, with around 40% living below the poverty line. In one study, three-quarters of women having abortions gave financial reasons including the need to work to care for children or other dependents. For these women, going through with a pregnancy can mean slipping deeper into poverty. If we want to decrease abortion rates, we need to support increased educational opportunities, better wages, and a social safety net that ensures that parents can feed their kids. So that part of my stance is also . . .

– Pro-Children: As in, taking care of the children who have already been born (over 15 million of whom live in food-insecure households here in the US). A complete pro-life stance must take into account the lives and well-being of children who have already been born, not just those in the womb. In addition, a true pro-life stance must be . . .

– Pro-Women’s Lives: The lives of women are no less valuable than the lives of the babies that they carry. This is probably the central reason that I cannot support the political pro-life movement. It devalues women at the expense of babies, or worse yet, fertilized eggs. Pro-life advocates may disagree, but the thrust of pro-life political machinations is clear: the lives of adult women are more disposable than the life of a fetus or even a fertilized egg. Consider that for some women, becoming pregnant is medically dangerous, yet some pro-life groups seek to limit access to contraception. Consider that for some women, pregnancy complications can become life-threatening and require the termination of a pregnancy, yet in multiple states, pro-life politicians have put forth legislation that if passed, would allow medical staff to refuse care for a woman in that situation. Any true pro-life stance should value the life of mother, unborn child, and existing child at least equally. Sometimes hard choices have to be made, and sometimes there are tragic, no-win situations. I believe we need to leave those choices to the families and doctors who are directly involved with them.

– Pro-Choice(s): To sum up several of the “pros” above, I support empowering women and men to make and implement good choices about sex and contraception. I support the availability of safe and legal abortion because sometimes it is the best, or only choice. I choose to not force my ideological views on women in difficult situations and to trust them to make and be responsible for their choices. I am not pro-abortion, but I know that making abortion illegal or highly restricted is not the answer.

In fact, making abortion illegal does not lead to lower abortion rates. It simply makes abortion less safe and puts more women at risk. What lowers abortion rates is education, availability of contraception, and social and economic empowerment. If the pro-life movement is serious about reducing abortion rates, it needs to stop over-simplifying the issue and get down to addressing the underlying problems. It needs to stop vilifying the people involved–patients and providers–and work to alleviate the conditions that back women into corners where there is, as Isabel wrote, no easy way out. 

And finally, my last “Pro.” I am . . .

– Pro-Love and Grace, Rather than Shame and Condemnation: When women do find themselves in positions where they need (or require) an abortion, we need to be willing to hear their stories, withhold judgment, and support them in the best way that we can. That may mean helping them see–like Miss Julia did for Isabel–that there is a way forward without terminating a pregnancy. But it may mean something very different: supporting a victimized woman as she leaves an abusive relationship or recovers from rape; mourning a baby that was wanted, but that could not survive or have any quality of life; helping a mother who is struggling to care for her existing children, or helping a woman forgive herself for making mistakes or hard decisions so that she can move on with her life.

 As I mentioned above, Isabel’s story resonated with me in part because of the shame and condemnation that she felt. An online friend of mine, John Berry, read what Isabel had to say and commented, “It is staggering the burdens we put on people when we should be helping them during the difficult times in life.” Both Isabel and John are onto something: Instead of heaping shame and condemnation on women, we should be helping them to bear the burdens that are already on their shoulders.

And we can start simply by listening. 


Here are some places to begin:

“Congressman Tim Ryan Changes Position on Abortion after Talking to Women”

John Shore: “From a Christian Woman who Chose Abortion”

Shauna Armitage: “Abortion: A Choice I Never Knew I’d Have to Make”

“Stories about Abortion”

“Women who had Abortions after Twenty Weeks Explain Why They’re Necessary”

Lynn Beisner: “I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me”


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Branches of the Same Vine: Women, LGBTQ Christians, and my Dream for the Church

After two posts on LGBTQ stories, I had planned to take my series on stories and how they can be powerful agents of transformation in our lives in a different direction. However, since the ban on same-sex marriage was overturned in Alabama, events have put my church in the news and in hot water with our local Southern Baptist association. As a result, I have a little more to say on the way I have come to see my own story mirrored in the situation of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

If you click over to the “About me” page of this blog, you’ll quickly see why I no longer fit into Southern Baptist churches where I was raised. I am progressive, feminist, and pro-equality and inclusion. I am anti-legalism and pro-individual freedom and responsibility. As a Ph.D. in language and literature in I am also rather competent at reading, studying, and reaching my own conclusions about issues of belief and practice. But when you get right down to it, the main issue is that I am a woman who refuses to be treated as anything less than an equal, adult, contributing, and responsible member of a congregation.

The Southern Baptist Convention has pretty well drawn a line in the sand against people like me. Decades ago the SBC voted to limit what I believe is a central tenet of the Baptist faith, priesthood of the believer, in a move that reflected a concentration of power at the top and less freedom of conscience and belief for those below. Since then, the SBC has sought to enforce more specific scriptural interpretations on its members (like when it doubled-down on eternal conscious torment in hell–something not mentioned in the original Baptist Faith and Message–in the wake of Rob Bell’s influential and scripturally based book Love Wins).

More to the point here, in recent decades the SBC has also put forth specific statements to try to limit the participation of women in higher church leadership. Interestingly, before the year 2000, the Baptist Faith and Message did not exclude women from the pastorate, but in that year it was amended to limit the role of pastor to men. Sure, individual churches have the autonomy to decide if they will ordain women as deacons or ministers, but that doesn’t make up for the sexism of an organization where female seminary students are trained to be pastors’ wives or to minister only to other women

One of the reasons that I do not consider myself a Southern Baptist anymore is this position on women. At some point it dawned on me that I had grown up watching women do what seemed to be the majority of the work in the church, yet be denied a place in church leadership. In the churches that I grew up in, there were no female pastors, no female deacons, no women called on to pray, no female ushers. (I still wonder what could be so gender specific about handing out church bulletins and passing the offering plate?)

Women are not spiritually, morally, or intellectually inferior to men. In Christ there is neither male nor female, and that should be reflected in our churches. “Biblical” arguments to the contrary are contradicted in the Bible by Paul himself, who names one woman, Phoebe, as a deacon (Romans 16.1), and another, Junia, as an apostle (Romans 16.7). Yep, an apostle – the highest designation in the early church.

It is my firm belief that women who are called and equipped should have equal opportunity to participate in the church at all levels, and I decided about ten years ago that I would not join another church that did not ordain women as deacons and support women’s right to share the pulpit and the pastorate. Women have too often been excluded from church leadership simply on the basis of their sex, regardless of their calling or talent. I won’t put up with that anymore.

I made this decision because in churches who refuse to do these things, women are second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. I would be a second class citizen. My opinions on women, if expressed, would be devalued and rejected. Excuses would be made for unequal treatment and opportunities, and the Bible would be used to prop them up. I would have to keep my head down and pretend to be someone I’m not in order to fit in. As a result, I would be disengaged, unfulfilled, underutilized, and probably bitter and suffering in my spiritual life.

As an educated and dedicated Christian, I deserve better than that. I deserve to have spiritual role models and mentors who fully respect me, and I deserve to have some who also look like me. Most of all, I deserve a church where ALL of me fits in. Where I can work on being transformed into the image of Christ, not into an antiquated image of womanhood masquerading as Christian life.

From my own story, I know what it is like to go to a church and to have to keep my head down. I know what it feels like to have to keep part of myself hidden away to avoid causing a stir and risking a reprimand.

From there, I can extrapolate and somewhat imagine what it must be like to be in a different and darker closet–one where to open the door means to risk much more than a simple reprimand or a reminder of one’s ‘place.’ Where simply being oneself entails a very real risk of being condemned and ostracized, and perhaps not only from one’s church, but from one’s home and family. Where it may even result in physical assault in the name of Christianity.

LGBTQ people have too often been excluded from the church on the basis of their identities rather than their beliefs, intentions, and actions. They have had to choose between hiding who they are and pretending to fit in, or being honest about their identities and then having to live outside of the church and the borders it has built to separate descriptors like “gay” and “Christian” or “gay” and “moral.” Unlike women, they haven’t even been granted second-class citizenship. They are foreigners, left outside of the borders drawn against them.

Despite some efforts to separate the two categories, there are LGBTQ Christians, and they deserve better. They deserve a chance to be in community with other Christians, and they deserve to be able to be themselves, without being labeled with preconceived notions about their moral and spiritual character.

Some Christians worry that inviting LGBTQ folks into the church without trying to “reform” them necessarily means we are watering down our moral standards. It doesn’t.

Inviting LGBTQ folks–just as they are–into the church, and into the sacrament of marriage, means inviting them to share in the moral ideals of the church and of Christian life. It means that the same moral standards can apply to all of us, whether gay or straight: self control, patience, love, commitment, faithfulness, and so on. We are all made in the image of God, and despite our differences, if we seek God we all have the capacity to reflect that image in our lives, our service, and our (different-sex or same-sex) relationships. 

Having the “right” genitalia is not an indication of spiritual superiority or leadership potential, just as having the “right” sexual orientation is not a guarantee of morality. On the flip side, having the “wrong” gender or sexual orientation is not a guarantee of spiritual inferiority or immorality. It’s time to leave aside those labels and value judgments and see how we as individuals can all be branches of the same Vine, producing good fruit and loving one another.

This is my dream for the church, for it to be a place where the only identities that matter are those of Jesus-follower and beloved child of God.