Believing women, pursuing justice

Part of me is horrified at the stories of rape, assault, sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior that continue to come out every day now. I ache with grief and anger for those who have had their lives and careers changed forever by these violations, and who must now also face the judgment and distortions of having their experiences made public.

Part of me has known for a long time that our culture is one that facilitates and encourages these transgressions. That so many men move through the world causing pain and misery, sometimes by choice, sometimes because they lack the courage or will to choose something better, sometimes because the rest of us choose not to stop them.

We all know about it at some level, don't we? That long before we elected a misogynistic, sexual predator bully as President, long before any celebrity accusations were headlines or Twitter non-apologies were made and dissected, we as a culture have accepted that women (and some men) are going to be raped, assaulted, preyed upon or otherwise exploited, and that it's just who we are as a people? Many, if not most, of the women I know have their own stories of violation at some level (many, I'm sure, with stories I don't know about), and can further relay the stories of their mothers, sisters, daughters and friends beyond that.

So I believe women. I am grateful that we are in a moment where more often than not, at least some women are being listened to, heard and believed in the face of denials and cowardice from men who, in the past, got a pass.

What does justice look like moving forward?

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Changes in Indiana pro bono legal service funding

Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Legal OfficeWhen you walk into Shane Eddington's office at the Whitewater Valley Pro Bono offices in downtown Richmond, the scene is a little like something out of a John Grisham novel: the heroic lawyer working away at all hours amid piles of legal documents in a windowless office with just one assistant on staff, trying to help the most vulnerable members of our community who couldn't otherwise afford legal services.  Divorces, custody battles, landlord-tenant disputes, managing the assets of the departed and other various issues come across his desk all day long; most of the people he sees can't afford to pay much of anything, but really need his help.

Even if Eddington's role as Executive Director of the organization isn't as dramatic as you'd find in a legal thriller, the need for reduced rate or free legal services in our area has never been greater, and the prospects for funding sources to meet those needs are changing rapidly.

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Justifying war, values training for war makers

Hung out to dryIn my eighth grade English class, Mr. Sweeney asked us to write a persuasive essay and then deliver it to the rest of the class convincingly. The United States had just sent its military to the Middle East to expel the Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait, and that was a hot topic of discussion and controversy. As a part of these events, the head pastor at my church had recently delivered a sermon on what constitutes a "just war." It was a good sermon - contemplative, balanced, and challenging without being preachy (beyond the normal degree to which a white man adorned in robes standing in an ornate pulpit speaking down to a congregation with an amplified and booming voice is "preachy"). Because I admired this man and trusted my church and had not yet at that point in my life encountered any other theories of war, I found myself thoroughly convinced that the use of force by my government in that case was justified. I thought it was a perfect topic to use for my own persuasive speech.
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The Suffering Servant

The assignment given for my New Testament course was to "write a biblical parable."

024 21AWhat I came up with is obviously not a parable in the traditional sense, but I like to think of it as the parable of parables; it is the story of a common theme that runs throughout the literature of the biblical time and that represents a fundamental (or at least well-established) part about how our society tends to work. In that sense it is a story that evokes a deeper meaning from itself when examined closely in relation to our own lives, as does a parable in its purer form.


Once there was a boy born of no great noticeable lineage. When he grew up, he found that he was deeply disturbed by the problems of the world around him and that he was going to devote his life to changing things radically. He found that he was a good speaker and had a knack for communicating with people in direct, powerful ways. He learned a lot about the problems he was facing and he lived and dined among those who contributed to them.

He began to talk, in public and in private, about the problems and about the fundamental causes and possible solutions. He would sometimes end up with large groups of people gathered around him as he talked. Though he had many followers who believed in his cause, he only had a few that he considered his true friends and true believers. Besides, it was becoming dangerous for him and his followers to talk about the problems any more because there were many who opposed his views or said that he had no right in the first place to address the problems because of who he was. After a while, his following and support got so large that it seemed he was actually making a difference. People were actually beginning to catch on to what he was saying, and at the same time becoming less accepting of those who caused the problems or who had oppressed their existence. Finally, his enemies decided that his words were too dangerous because they addressed deeply buried problems that, to face, would shake the very foundations of the world built on top of them.

He was tried and convicted by the attitudes of his time and by the prejudices of his enemies, and so they plotted to kill him as punishment. They did so, quietly and quite normally with the typical sort of lynching. He died, and in a fairly short time, the mission and movement that he had created did not have enough forward motion to sustain itself, and it died fairly soon thereafter.

This is the story of Jesus Christ. This is the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is the story of the poor and homeless person who fights daily to find a home and raise a family. This is the story of Medgar Evers, of Malcom X, of any man and woman that has ever stood up for what they believed in because they could do no other. This is the story and the song of the suffering servant.

On the Nature of Civil Protest

I wrote this in reflection upon a conversation I had with a friend who was heading off for a weekend of protesting against the U.S. Government's "School of the Americas". There was the potential that my friend would be arrested, but there was also the general sense that it would be an exhausting and draining event. I asked her about why she was doing it, and a wonderful conversation ensued. These are some of the thoughts that remain. It's not done yet, thus the weak ending.

In every good conversation, the participants ideally exhibit a mutual desire to communicate their thoughts, share their ideas, and help the other participants to understand what they are trying to say. The conversation takes place because all of the participants recognize the significance and benefit of engaging in conversation with the other participants to communicate but also for the sake of conversation itself. The conversation is able to take place because all of the participants recognize that the other participants share the desire to engage in conversation.

In every good argument or debate, the participants ideally exhibit a mutual desire to convince the other participants that one view on a particular issue or series of issues is more appropriate, suitable, correct, or right than another view on the same issue or series of issues. The participants in an argument attempt to achieve this goal by explaining and detailing the point of view that they support in the context of opposing or refuting the points of view of the other participants, or sometimes affirming some parts and opposing other parts of a generally opposing point of view. Arguments and debates take place because participants recognize the opportunity to gain from discovering or acknowledging a particular point of view as more appropriate, suitable, correct, or right than another, whether it be the gain of personal knowledge, argumentative victory over another participant, or some other form of gain (not necessarily a positive gain).

Arguments are able to take place because participants recognize a need or desire to engage in the process of attempting to determine a more correct or appropriate point of view on a particular issue. This need or desire can arise from external pressures, personal passion about the issue or the argument itself (sometimes leading to physical combat), mechanical process, or any number of other sources. In all cases, participants recognize one or more of the other participants as being worthy of engaging in the argument or debate; they accept that the participants have a valid place in the process of argument, they recognize that the argument or debate has the potential to benefit themselves and possibly the other participants, and acknowledge respect (or present a façade of respect) that the other participants are suitably equipped to engage in the argument.

In every protest or act of civil disobedience, the participants making the protest or committing the act of civil disobedience exhibit a mutual desire to express an opinion about a particular issue or series of issues. The nature of protest and civil disobedience do not necessarily require that the parties holding, authorizing, enacting, or maintaining the views being protested against voluntarily participate in the event or even recognize the event as a valid "conversation" or "argument" as they were defined above. In this sense, it is not a conversation between two or more willing participants, but only an act of expression by participants representing only one point of view, directed at the parties holding, authorizing, enacting, or maintaining the opposing views.

This may be the case for several reasons. The opposing party may have refused the request of the participants to engage in a conversation or debate on a particular issue. The participants may have previously engaged in a conversation or argument that did not reach conclusion satisfactory to one or more of the participants. The protesters may desire to surprise or intimidate the opposing participants by initiating the protest or act of civil disobedience without advance notice. The protestors may not feel that they have available to them appropriate means by which to engage in a conversation or argument with the opposing parties, due to various power structures, logistical concerns such as time and place, or other factors.

By engaging in protest or acts of civil disobedience, these participants do, however, make the opposing parties a part of the conversation or argument, albeit unwillingly, in the following manner:

  1. The protesters imply a degree of responsibility for engaging in a conversation or acting lies with the opposing party;
  2. The protesters acknowledge that the opposing party is the most suited for taking on the role as an authoritative participant in a discussion on the issues in dispute;
  3. The protesters acknowledge the opposing party's authority or right or obligation to deal with the issues in dispute.

There are negative consequences associated with this approach to a conversation or argument. Because the opposing parties may not desire to be unwilling participants, they may react to the acts of protest or civil disobedience unfavorably. The structures (governmental, social, or otherwise) of the location in which the protest takes place may require or facilitate that the protesters` actions be halted or oppressed. Protesters or persons performing acts of civil disobedience may be subject to immediate consequences such as incarceration, injury, and death, or long-term consequences such as social displacement, internal conflict, or others.

In the sense that some participants are brought in unwillingly, protest or civil disobedience happens because the protestors recognize the potential for their actions to directly or indirectly impact the views and actions of the opposing parties. By participating in protest or civil disobedience, the participants exhibit a degree of respect for the opposing party to recognize, process, acknowledge, and act as a result of this impact. While the protesters may not necessarily place all responsibility for such processing and/or action with the opposing party, the notion of expectations between participants (be they willingly so or not) does arise.

Protest or civil disobedience are appropriate, then, when the potential for this impact on opposing parties outweighs the potential negative consequences of action. Protest or civil disobedience is successful when the opposing parties become willing participants in the conversation or argument about the issues at hand because they have recognized the nature or depth of the impact on them.