Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Malala Yousafzai: The power of one voice

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 and grew up in the northwest Swat Valley region of Pakistan. As a child she was fortunate to have access to education because her father, Ziauddin Yousfzai, operated a private girls school in her hometown. This part of Pakistan was under Taliban rule and they did not believe that girls should have an education. 

When she was 11 years old Malala wrote a blog essay for the BBC British television network describing what it was like living under Taliban occupation. This story appeared in a New York Times documentary, and it got a good bit of attention in print and on television. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Unfortunately, all this attention made her a target of the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, she was attacked and shot in her head by a masked Taliban gunman. Miraculously she survived the assassination attempt and was sent to England for treatment.

This horrific act of violence against a young girl created overnight a huge outpouring of support for her cause. After her recovery she became an international speaker for the rights of education for all children, especially girls.

In 2014 Malala became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  As a result of her advocacy, the United Nations passed a petition in her honor that led the country of Pakistan to ratify its first ever “Right to Education” bill. She has established a nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide education for girls, and she has written a number of books. In 2015 she opened a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

Currently, this bright, dedicated, inspiring young woman is enrolled at the Lady Margaret Hall (College) in Oxford, studying for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics. There is no telling what she may do and accomplish in the future, but we can guess that it will be beneficial to young people.

I give thanks for this courageous young voice and visionary in our world, who believes in the education of girls and the opportunities that come with freedom and justice for all people. Many of our United Methodist missions around the world focus on the education of girls; and our global society has reaped the benefits of these efforts ever since.

Only when everyone is respected as equal and equally able to access education, health care and the basic needs of life can the entire world begin to thrive and be at peace.

Malala is a shining example of a young person who is changing the world. Just as she tells us, we should never underestimate the power of one voice, especially of one who bravely speaks out for justice and human rights. Happy Women’s History Month!

Sources:Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World,  by Ann Shen, San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC, 2016  p. 209. Also, Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

‘Blowin’ in the Wind’

I remember buying a Peter, Paul and Mary album when I was in 7th grade. I sat in the basement with my friends that summer, and listened to every cut of this folk music record over and over again.  

It was during the time of the Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam War. Songs about justice and peace were in the air. No song on that album struck my young heart more than Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It was asking all the right questions:

“How many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banded?
“How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?”
“How many times must a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?”
“How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

With each verse, the wistful refrain in three-part harmony replied: “The answer, my friend is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

What did that mean?  I was never quite sure.  

Maybe the answer was as obvious as the summer wind blowing through the trees in the backyard. Or maybe it was something more mysterious and unattainable. It seemed to me at the time that the grown-ups could be doing more about the troubles in the world with all its unrest, violence, war and inequality. 

That was over 50 years ago, and this old world of ours continues to suffer from the same injustice and violence. Verses of this song still ring in my heart, as once again we hear about a troubled young man who charged into a high school with a semi-automatic weapon and took multiple lives in just minutes.

How many deaths will it take before we know that too many people have died in our country from these weapons of mass destruction that are so readily available?  When is it time to do something about this?  Will it take 50 more years to find the answer?

Ezekiel 12:1-2 gives a Biblical foundation to Dylan’s lyrics: “Oh mortal, you dwell among a rebellious breed. They have eyes to see but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.”  

It is my prayer that we will hear the voices and see the pain of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all those other victims of senseless gun violence. It is my prayer that we will take action now to make this world a safer place. That can mean writing letters to law makers, having conversations with people who have various perspectives, teaching non-violence and gentle ways of being in this world, attending rallies against gun violence, and most importantly, prayer.

Prayer is always blowin’ in the wind, as God’s people evoke the power of the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, to do good in this world. I pray that more of us will catch that spirit, feel its power and be moved to action by it, inspired to see, to hear and to do the good works of peace and justice to which God calls each of us. Amen.