Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Melting Down

As I sat down to write this blog post as a follow up to my earlier Advent post I clicked over to the Huffington Post website as I would be referencing an article I had read off of their website. I had thought about bookmarking the religion section previously but I hadn't done that yet so I went to the homepage where I saw this image:
This was not what I wanted to see. Twenty seven dead. We now know that there were twenty children in that count not 18. Twenty eight total were killed that day, including the gunman.

If there is every anything that could shake a person to the core, this is it. There is no way to explain this tragedy. No words that can ease the pain of these families. As I rode the bus home the day of the shooting a woman was finding out about what had happened over the phone and all she could say was "oh no. Oh no."

The very first comment I read from a non-journalist as details of the shooting still emerged was "I never understood "Gun-free" zones. It's absolute madness." This was the first comment I read. I can't stress that enough. If there is something that could make me more upset when learning about a mass shooting is the argument that schools and other places should have more guns not less so that people can stop those who go on a rampage quickly. The shooters identity wasn't even speculated yet. The number of kids dead wasn't known. And the first thought that jumped into that persons mind was "this is why we need more guns". It is truly horrifying. To complicate matters for myself and the people I know, the night before the shooting my homestate's congress passed a law to allow concealed weapons into churches, stadiums, and yes, schools. 

I would go on to read a comment off of a pastors post explaining how ridiculous this notion is "Well... if that Kindergarten teacher had a gun in her purse..." This shooting is such an insane and incomprehensible occurrence. A Kindergarten classroom. All the victims that were children were either 6 or 7 years old. There shouldn't need to be any sort of threat to the safety of these kids. It is just unfathomable. The last thing a Kindergarten classroom needs is a gun in it.

Children are naturally curious. They don't yet understand societal rules or what consequences actions can have. If you introduce guns into that classroom all that would need to happen is to have one child find the gun owned by the teacher and a stupid, horrible tragedy could occur that should have never happened. In truth school shootings are incredibly rare. Adding more guns to schools does not have any chance of lowering the risk of a school shooting, it only raises the risk.  

This shooting can, in no way, be used to justify guns in schools. That sentence is just a crazy one inherently. Guns in schools? What are we teaching our kids by allowing that? We sow the seeds of inherent distrust of all, we suppose that each new person we meet is trying to kill us, and we teach all of this at school where teachers walk around carrying pistols. People have accused video games and movies and music of teaching kids violent behaviors. What about when we start teaching them violence in school as part of the law? What do we teach them when the ones educating them are ready to take a life?

I took out an examination of the second amendment to the constitution out of this post. While I believe fully that gun-ownership is not a protected right in the bill of rights that argument is for a different time and place. However, it is the time and place for is changing the laws in this country. 

The Wall Street Journal tracked homicides from 2000-2010 in the United States. Here's what they found: 2/3rds of all homicides in the US were caused by guns. over 111,000 of them in that 11 year span. Over 10,000 people killed by guns every year. That's over 27 people a day. See that is ultimately what is so awful and disgusting about this shooting in Newtown. Every single day Newtown is happening. It doesn't usually happen in one location, but everyday 27 people are being killed by guns. That's not just me adjusting the numbers to reflect the Newtown shooting. 10000/365=27.397. And that's me rounding down, not up.

Guns have one purpose and only one purpose. To kill. And they kill over 27 people every day. Newtown was not the exception to the rule. It was the rule, spelled out in a way that we can easily see. I don't know if there's a stronger argument against guns. 

There have been many insightful posts after this tragedy to explain how this was evil, how the God of creation mourns with us, how this should never happen. And there have been some less than insightful things said about how this is "justice" for such atrocities as letting people marry other people who love them. I won't even touch that because 1) I can't hope to do a better job than the insightful people who have already posted and 2) I won't even waste my time tearing down words meant only to inflame.

Instead let us look ahead to the future:
"Many people will come and say 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths. The law will go out from Zion, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.'" -Isaiah 2:3-4 
I await the day when we melt down our weapons and repurpose them as tools to feed our children.

Lord, forgive us for the times when we let the broken people slip through the cracks. Forgive us for the times when we sit idly by because we assume that another tragedy can't happen again. Not again. Forgive us for not loving each other enough to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Be with the people of Newtown, CT as we continue to mourn because of this tragedy and may your light shine through in this darkest time. We remember oh Lord that a mere 11 days after this tragedy we will remember the birth of our savior. We are in advent now Lord and we must rely on the small candles we light to bring us hope as we prepare for your Word. 
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it." -John 1:1-5


Tuesday, December 11, 2012


As I sit down to write this blog post it is currently 50 degrees outside. Remember I live in upper New York. It's December 10th. Outside doesn't really look a lot like Christmas. But it is almost Christmas and we're two weeks into the Advent season. Often times people complain about Christmas music because it seems to start so early and seemingly never ends. And I must admit that I have spent time in this camp. However, my opinion has changed (sort of).

Classical Christmas music and hymns are some of my favorite musical selections. Nearly every song in Church this Sunday was singing about Emmanuel, including one of my all time favorites: Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. As I write I put on Pandora to Classical Christmas music and got treated to Carol of the Bells right off the bat and then Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. I have favorite hymns that aren't about Christmas but how many Christmas hymns are among your all time favorites?

Now, I could do without Santa Baby, and the Hippopotamus song. I could live a healthier life if those never existed even. But in my mind there's nothing better than traditional Christmas music. And why should there be? Christmas may not be the most important holiday on the Christian calendar but is there a better holiday for inspiring music? Easter is triumphant and full of hope but first and foremost you have to get past Good Friday. And even then the most famous hymn from the Easter season is the Hallelujah Chorus which is always sung in the Easter service but is actually not about Easter. The Hallelujah Chorus is only the 44th part out of 53 of Handel's "Messiah". And the Hallelujah Chorus takes its inspiration from the book of Revelation. Parts 22-35 are about Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and ascension but those never get sung.

As hopeful and amazing as Christ's resurrection is we have always been much more inspired by Christ's birth than His death. Not to say that that's a bad thing. We draw inspiration from God sending a savior to us to fulfill a promise made long ago. Truly this is a joyous time. There is plenty to take inspiration from and to be thankful for. And I am thankful.

However, there is still suffering in the world that we cannot ignore. AUMS has an annual toy program for the children of our neighborhood. We rely heavily on the Marine Corps Toys 4 Tots program to make sure that we can serve the children in our area. We have already been told that demand for toys is up and donations are down. In this season we know that it's not the gifts and the toys that matter most. However, the children of our area, like so many children around the country and world, don't really have much to call their own. They don't get new toys all the time. Children need to be allowed to be children. Toys for deserving kids should never be something that is taken away. And yet here we are. We keep signing up children on the hope and prayer that a Christmas miracle will happen. That we can rally support and provide for the over 200 children that we have signed up for toys.

If you would like to help us out with a financial gift you can donate online at or you can send a check to PO Box 6896, Albany, NY 12206. If you want to earmark your gift for toys be sure to add special instructions to the online donation or write it in the memo of your check.

Together we can bring a smile to the children of the West Hill neighborhood. God Bless you in this Advent season.

EDIT: This article was written early and scheduled to be posted today. I have kept it in its original form but would like to add that this morning we received word that Toys 4 Tots has approved our request. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Workers Rights

I spent a couple of days in Baltimore last week attending the National Council for Safety and Health Conference (National COSH). Part of my missionary training came from a former US-2 who served at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) in Chicago. It was broadly focused on worker rights with a particular focus on wage theft as that is a big focus of IWJ.

Serving at AUMS means that I am connected to our local Labor-Religion Coalition (our Executive Director is a member of the Executive Board). Labor-Religion has a partnership with IWJ as an affiliated interfaith group. As one of their affiliates we were asked to send a representative to the COSH conference and I was the lucky one who got to go. I must say the experience was incredible and educational.

I may have been the only non-union person at the conference and many of the people have been to these conferences before. Even so I was not the only person learning what rights workers have. I will avoid going into details on most things to protect the workers involved. But if you are a worker covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) there are certain rights you should be aware of under Section 11 (C) of the OSH Act. This will get slightly confusing if I don't clear this up now. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is what investigates and protects workers under the OSH Act.

You are covered under OSHA if:

Private Sector Workers

Most employees in the nation come under OSHA's jurisdiction. OSHA covers private sector employers and employees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program. State-run health and safety programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program. To find the contact information for the OSHA Federal or State Program office nearest you, see the Regional and Area Offices map.
State and Local Government Workers

Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by Federal OSHA, but have OSH Act protections if they work in a state that has an OSHA-approved state program. Four additional states and one U.S. territory have OSHA approved plans that cover public sector employees only. This includes: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and the Virgin Islands. Private sector workers in these four states and the Virgin Islands are covered by Federal OSHA.
Federal Government Workers

Federal agencies must have a safety and health program that meet the same standards as private employers. Although OSHA does not fine federal agencies, it does monitor federal agencies and responds to workers' complaints. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is covered by OSHA.
Not covered by the OSH Act:

    • Self-employed;
    • Immediate family members of farm employers that do not employ outside employees; and
    • Workplace Hazards regulated by another Federal agency (for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard).

Now that you know if you're protected under OSHA there are certain rights that you have that cannot be infringed upon. One of these is the right to report a workplace injury or illness. This right has historically been infringed upon by employers. But workers now have a new weapon in securing their rights. Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Fairfax released a memo which can be found here. If you don't feel like reading it here is what it spells out in short:
  1. If an employer retaliates against a worker for filing a report of an injury then they are in violation of section 11(C) of the OSH Act. Discipline for reporting an injury is illegal.
  2. If an employer disciplines an employee for not reporting an injury in a timely manner or in a manner against the employers reporting rules they could be in violation of section 11(C) if the employers rules are deemed to be a pretext to discipline workers. Employers do have a legitimate interest to set up rules for reporting and timetables for reporting but they cannot discipline an employee for untimely reporting if the employee did not realize right away that they were injured seriously enough to file a report or even that they were injured at all until a later time. 
  3. If an employer disciplines an employee for getting injured because they broke a workplace safety rule they could be in violation of section 11(C) if they only punish employees for breaking the safety rule if they get hurt but ignore cases of employees breaking the rule if no injury results from their action. Also, there could be a violation of section 11(C) if the safety rule is purposely vague (Work Carefully) and used solely as a pretext to punish employees who get hurt.
  4. If an employer sets up a program that intentionally or unintentionally provides employees with incentives to not report an injury. These programs are widely used by employers and could result in an employees name being taken out of a drawing for a prize if they report an injury or having a prize amount reset for all workers if an employee reports an injury (this turns workers on others). 
This last point is apparently extremely rampant. An airline (who shall not be named) uses the incentive of having your name enter into a drawing to win a new car if you don't report an illness or injury or call in sick for a period of 6 months. They give away two cars a year. While it may seem at first like this encourages workers to act safely what it really does is put workers into harms way. This policy discourages workers (again, airline workers) from taking time off when they are sick and allowing them to infect other workers and passengers so that they can possibly win a car. This "Safety Policy" creates an unsafe working condition and appears to be illegal under section 11(C) of the OSH Act. 

You should also be allowed to work in the safest conditions possible. If you know that your work conditions can be unsafe you should start recording things that seem to create unsafe working conditions. Document hazards in your workplace and talk to coworkers about anything they've noticed. Once you've come up with a list of hazards and hopefully some support among your coworkers come up with possible solutions to the hazards. It is always best to see if you can get rid of the hazard first. Then take your list of hazards and solutions to your employer and document that they have received your concerns and recommendations. 

If you feel you have been discriminated against for reporting a workplace injury or illness you have 30 days to file a report with OSHA. Make sure you document exactly what happened in detail. Get things in writing if you can or create a log of what was said to you and who said it. You can see what options you have to file a complaint with OSHA by clicking this link

Finally, could you take the time to sign a petition to support staff at Rutgers University who were forced to report to work during Hurricane Sandy and are seeking fair payment for the time spent working through a crisis as well as excused absence from work for non-essential staff who did not report to work due to the Hurricane. You can read and sign the petition here.