Social Justice – relevant stories and essays

A Pillar of Bones

We sat in the quiet of my study, the renowned psychologist and I. “I have a story for you,” she said, “one I cannot keep to myself.” The clock ticked slowly. “I had an examiner of bones in my office haunted by a dream that harried him by day and left him writhing in the night. These are his words:”

And when my vision cleared I saw reaching to the very heavens great mounds of bones, some fresh and white and others yellow and cracked. Empty eye sockets looked out in every direction.

“To whom to these belong?” I asked aloud, but no one answered. I continued to walk amidst the piles seemingly stacked with an artistic intricacy that defied the very rules of gravity. I walked and I roamed until I came upon the greatest pile of them all, a huge pillar I could not see around. I stopped before it and there . . . there at my feet was a bone in the path. It was little, barely a trifle but I could not go around it. I bent down to look at bone – a finger or a toe perhaps; it was so tiny and yet it frightened me down to the depths of my soul.

“This bone must have fallen,” I thought, “I must put it back.” I reached forth with a trembling hand and picked it up. This remnant of a corpse was a feather in my hand, but my feet felt its weight and could barely lift themselves. Step by step I approached that great pillar. I drew up to the very wall of bones, and there, before my eyes, was the crevice from which my bone had fallen. In awe and with sadness I lifted my hand and eased my burden into its place.

I waited.

And the breeze began to seep between the piles. Upon that breeze came a murmur, a voice at the edges of my hearing. I strained and I strained to listen. Two words I grasped: “Remember me.” And I swore and I promised, and knew I would never forget.


World Wide Aid

Cyclone Nargis killed at least 22,000 when it swept into the country of Myanmar a few weeks ago. Many countries and the United Nations stepped forward to offer aid before starvation, typhus and cholera threatened to quadruple the death toll. However, the military junta is paranoid and focused on a bogus referendum that would give them more power. They denied early entry to aid and to the disaster aid specialists who could provide the expertise to deliver supplies where they are needed. The death toll rises.

As of this writing, the junta has agreed to allow food and provisions into the country, but not aid workers. The few foreign specialists allowed into the country are restricted to the capital city of Rangoon, where they can be of little help so far removed from the disaster area.

Before the coup that brought these men to power, Burma was one of the largest exporters of rice to the world and the Irrawaddy Delta was the heart of the rice growing region. Under the onerous military rulership, the renamed Myanmar no longer exports rice and can barely feed its own people. With the destruction of the Irradwaddy River Delta rice paddies, food shortages will soon appear in this country. The cyclone hit just after the spring rice harvest concluded, which will give the people some months before shortages truly hit.

As Jews, what do we do? We are confronted with an oppressive regime and a suffering population. The United States has rushed aid to the area in the form of food, water, water containers, blankets, and plastic sheeting. Several U.S. Navy ships are off of the coast, willing to offer assistance as well, but they have been denied permission to enter territorial waters. Israel has also sent food and medical supplies.

The situation appears nearly hopeless for the survivors on the ground, particularly in the south. However, this is just the most recent of many tragedies afflicting our world. Darfur is still mired is horrendous violence; Somalia and Chad are sinking under the weight of criminal gangs and militias. Lebanon is on the brink of civil war, again. The needs are worldwide according to Doctors Without Borders,

Individually, none of us can solve even one of these problems. Yet we have a responsibility to give tzedakah when we can and to lend our voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. Donate your money, even though it hurts. Give of your time even though you would rather be doing other things.

The sages teach that in the World To Come, you will not be asked ‘why did you do thus and so?’ The question that you will be asked is ‘why didn’t you do thus and so?’ Each of us, by cooperating with others of like mind, can make a difference. Learn, speak up and speak forth.

Brothers and Sisters to Us

U.S. Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on Racism, 1979

Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church. Despite apparent advances and even significant changes in the last two decades, the reality of racism remains. In large part it is only external appearances which have changed.

In 1958 we spoke out against the blatant forms of racism that divided people through discriminatory laws and enforced segregation. We pointed out the moral evil that denied human persons their dignity as children of God and their God-given rights. (1) A decade later in a second pastoral letter we again underscored the continuing scandal of racism called for decisive action to eradicate it from our society.(2)

We recognize and applaud the readiness of many Americans to make new strides forward in reducing and eliminating prejudice against minorities. We are convinced that the majority of Americans realize that racial discrimination is both unjust and unworthy of this nation.

We do not deny that changes have been made, that laws have been passed, that policies have been implemented. We do not deny that the ugly external features of racism which marred our society have in part been eliminated. But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only a covering over, not a fundamental change. Today the sense of urgency has yielded to an apparent acceptance of the status quo. The climate of crisis engendered by demonstrations, protest, and confrontation has given way to a mood of indifference; and other issues occupy our attention.

In response to this mood, we wish to call attention to the persistent presence of racism and in particular to the relationship between racial and economic justice. Racism and economic oppression are distinct but interrelated forces which dehumanize our society. Movement toward authentic justice demands a simultaneous attack on both evils. Our economic structures are undergoing fundamental changes which threaten to intensify social inequalities in our nation. We are entering an era characterized by limited resources, restricted job markets and dwindling revenues. In this atmosphere, the poor and racial minorities are being asked to bear the heaviest burden of the new economic pressures.

This new economic crisis reveals an unresolved racism that permeates our society’s structures and resides in the hearts of many among the majority. Because it is less blatant, this subtle form of racism is in some respects even more dangerous — harder to combat and easier to ignore. Major segments of the population are being pushed to the margins of society in our nation. As economic pressures tighten, those people who are often black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian — and always poor — slip further into the unending cycle of poverty, deprivation, ignorance disease, and crime. Racial identity is for them an iron curtain barring the way to a decent life and livelihood. The economic pressures exacerbate racism, particularly where poor white people are competing with minorities for limited job opportunities. The Church must not be unmindful of these economic pressures. We must be sensitive to the unfortunate and unnecessary racial tension that results from this kind of economic need.

Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for whose who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures. Our concern over racism follows, as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization. Pope John Paul II has defined evangelization as bringing consciences, both individual and social, into conformity with the Gospel.(3) We would betray commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel. Therefore, as the bishops of the United States, we once again address our pastoral reflections on racism to our brothers and sisters of all races.

We do this, conscious of the fact that racism is only one form of discrimination that infects our society. The United States of America rests on a constitutional heritage that recognizes the equality, dignity, and inalienable rights of all its citizens. Every form of discrimination against individuals and groups-whether because of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, economic status, or national or cultural origin- is a serious injustice which has severely weakened our social fabric. We wish to draw attention here to the particular form of discrimination that is based on race.

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