Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Mother's Day Reflection

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have questions answered by
irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity,
mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice…"

Julia Ward Howe, Mother’s Day Proclamation, 1880

We in the United States observe Mother’s Day this Sunday, and I can’t help but recall how I’ve tried to honor my mom on past early May Sundays. I would get up early and make breakfast, just like she taught me years before. I did that several years. I remember that when I was senior in high school I bought her an artisan glass kerosene lamp from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. As it so often happens, those acts changed to cards and phone calls as I went away to college, and now being 700 miles away, that will have to suffice again (barring any sudden bursts of creativity).

But this year’s Mother’s Day is positioned in a rather unique period of time. Not only am I employed full time as a worker justice organizer, but it is less than a week after the death of the demagogue and global warlord Osama bin Laden at the hands of American military forces. My experiences as an organizer in Chicago have heightened my sensitivity to what true justice is, and while I am relieved that bin Laden will not be inciting more acts of murder, I cannot see this act truly bringing justice to a broken world. I recently tweeted (yup, you can follow me at Missionworker on Twitter) that “justice does not occur in the death of one man, but justice only occurs in the rebirth of many people”. This is my reaction to the vengeance killing of the former leader of al Qaeda.

Now how do I see Mother’s Day, situated in a time when young people have flash mobs to celebrate the demise of bin Laden? Well, I have to think about the lessons that I’ve learned from my mom. Mom is a bookkeeper for the Perry County Office of Aging, quietly making sure that funds get to the senior citizens of the much-mocked rural area northwest of Harrisburg. She is also a cancer survivor and long-time Sunday school teacher for 5-6 year-olds at our Methodist church. Maybe most importantly, at least to me, she is the mother of my older brother, younger sister, and me.

She taught me the importance of hard work, honesty, and persistence from her, and I also learned about sacrifice and boldness from Mom. Though Sarah Palin has claimed the “Mama Bear” title, I feel that my mom could run circles around her. She would be relentless in the pursuit of justice, and looking back, God help any folks were in the least bit unfair to us kids.

Though Mom and I no longer share a lot of the same views on politics, I can see how these lessons woven into my personality. I am not afraid to confront authorities or approach strangers, and maybe I can trace my endurance runner mentality (particularly useful for 8- and 10-k races) to these lessons. These traits are very useful in organizing and in ministry, and I’m sure that they will only manifest themselves further as I continue to pursue the intersection of ministry and organizing for social change.

I suppose that is one of the truly amazing about Mom. When it was becoming evident that I was diverging from the conservative politics of my upbringing, Mom still encouraged me to seize any opportunity that caught my eye. She helped me navigate the process of packing to live in South America for a semester. And I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have made it this far in my time as a missionary and organizer without her help. This is the greatest lesson that I learned: love transcends all causes, campaigns, and ideologies.

It is this love that guides me through the complex world of worker justice and community organizing. The world is not so simple to divide folks into good and evil camps, therefore I constantly fall back to the foundation of love from which grows my faith. I came to know this love through the life and behavior of my mom, and I still look to her to know this love in its most tangible form.

Thanks, Mom, and I love you.