Miami: Unaffordable Housing in Paradise

Miami is experiencing what is called a construction “boom” but the  for many lower and middle income families, this boom is a “bust” as they can no longer afford to live near where work is available.

As a native Miami, I have witnessed the explosive boom of construction over the past few years in this city as an endless stream of new luxury condominium and office complexes have risen to the sky. The downtown area used to be home to recent immigrants and low wage earners that lived in the apartments that once lined the streets. Much of this housing has been razed to make room for new development. No longer able to afford housing in the area, the previous occupants packed their bags and move further away from the center activity and their best possible options for employment and transportation.

The Christian scriptures record that Jesus of Nazareth was frequently denied housing, starting with his birth in a stable. And he knew well what it meant to have “no place”. He frequently had to sleep out in the open, and he lamented that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man (term used to denote Jesus) has no place to lay his head.”

These days, Jesus would have to move out of Miami Dade County or sleep out in the open. As an itinerant carpenter he is far more like the recent immigrants and low wage earners who are being kicked out of the area to make room for the high end condos. What makes matters worse is that the problem is not confined to the downtown area but is being experienced in cities throughout Miami Dade County.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a household is considered to be cost burdened if more than 30% of household expenditures are earmarked for housing. In Miami Dade County, 61% of renter households and 42% of owner households were cost burdened in 2014 making this county the third least affordable housing market in the country. Florida International University recently published The Miami Dade County Prosperity Initiatives Feasibility Study which contains a wealth of information concerning this issue.  This report cites statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau which show the average rent in this county skyrocketed from $1500 per month in 2009 to $2500 in 2015, an incredible 65% increase. It simply is not possible for wages to keep up with this increase.

The impacts of the lack of affordable housing are significant. It may mean having to chose between paying for meals or rent or being forced to move in with family members or friends creating cramped living environments. Others may find housing but the distance they must travel to work affects the overall quality of life. The further they are pushed away from their jobs, the more complicated it becomes to find adequate transportation to get to work. Even when transportation exists, the costs of getting to work are now increasing taking a bigger portion of a small pie. However, these are the lucky ones. The reality is that others are simply unable to find housing that is affordable given the wages that they earn and they end up either in shelters or on the street.

Justice demands that more be done to ensure that affordable housing is available to who need it in this county. The time to act is now before the “boom” leaves more residents without an affordable place to call home.

Advertisements

How many tears are your guns worth?

There is blood on our streets in Chicago, mingled with the tears of the family and friends of the victims. It threatens to become a river. But unlike the Chicago River which runs green at St. Patrick’s Day, this river runs red, all the time.

The tears of friends and family flowed readily at the funeral of 15 year old Jarvon Wilson of Chicago just before Thanksgiving. One of his closest friends delivered a eulogy through his own tears in which he remembered the conversations that he used to have with Jarvon about the possibility of being shot; how they would laugh and joke that instead Jarvon would live forever. Forever just became a very short time…another young life taken too soon due to senseless gun violence. What makes this so much more tragic is that Jarvon was shot to death over a pair of shoes.

I have to stop for a moment to try and process this news. I look at my own 16-year old son and think what it would be like to lose him over a senseless argument over a pair of shoes, a girlfriend, an argument between friends…everything that he is, everything that he will be snuffed out in a moment of violence. It makes me sick to think about it.

It makes me even more sick to think that instead of being a living breathing human being full of life and hope, Jarvon has become a statistic. He is one of the 701 homicides in Chicago this year, an almost 56% increase over the same time last year when there were 450. He is also one of the 4,050 people shot since January which an almost 50% increase from last year when there were 2,699 victims. Most of these victims hardly rate a mention in the local news much less receive national coverage. However, something set Jarvon apart from many of the other victims…his broken hearted grandfather is U.S. Representative Danny Davis. With his grief still raw, Davis is working to mobilize other African American politicians in Chicago to work towards concrete solutions to stemming the tide of these senseless killings.

I am reminded of the Prophet Micah:

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks”  (Micah 4:3)

This was Micah’s vision of peaceful coexistence between nations; that nation should no longer go to war against nation. As a voice that emerges from over 2000 years ago, Micah probably could not envision a time when guns would be the weapon of choice and that they would be used to settle a simple argument between individuals.

As a parent there are steps that I can take to be part of the change needed to stem the flow of blood that is running in our cities due to the proliferation of guns. There are dozens of organizations working to effect real change with regards to gun control. I am personally drawn to the Newtown Foundation because it formed as a result of the tragic mass shooting which took place at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14,2012 which took the lives of 20 children who were the same age as my own daughter. Six educators also lost their lives that day. This is a grassroots organization committed to working towards passing common sense gun safety laws as well as building bridges between families impacted by gun violence. The fourth anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy will be marked by nationwide vigils December 14-18th.

newton-vigil

This organization speaks to me. However, there are many other organizations committed to reducing gun violence in this country. Please look at this list and find an organization that speaks to you and get involved.

Together we can make a difference.

Sexual Assault in the Age of the “Grabber in Chief”

I am the mother of an 8 year old girl. I am sick to my stomach that someone who admits to sexual assault on a videotape can be elected president.

The normalization of violence against women and girls didn’t start with Donald Trump. It is a war as old as recorded history and it has never ended. Misogynistic injustices committed against women and the lack of accountability for “bad boy behavior” are all to common, but I fear that the modest gains we have made in confronting this behavior and changing it will be eroded in this time when the nominee to head the Justice Department says grabbing women by the genitals is not sexual assault.

But the assaults keep happening and the excuses keep piling up. Take for example an incident that sparked moral outrage across the nation in June of this year when Judge Aaron Persky sentenced college swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for the rape of an unconscious woman; the powerful and emotional victim’s statement seemingly falling on deaf ears. Instead it seems as if Brock’s fathers pleas not to ruin is son’s life over “20 minutes of action” prevailed.

brock_turner

In another highly publicized case, high school athlete David Becker was sentenced to 2 months’ probation in Massachusetts after he pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery. Originally charged with rape, he was allowed to plead to a lesser charge for assaulting two women who were asleep after having too much to drink at a party. One of the most disturbing aspects of this case is that when one of the women didn’t protest, he assumed that it was okay to proceed. Mr. Becker’s attorney, Thomas Rooke is on the record stating that “the goal of this sentence was not to impede this individual from graduating high school and to go onto the next step of his life, which is  a college experience.”

My daughter will be heading off to college in ten years. I see these stories and see images such as those taken at a fraternity at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia where new students were greeted with misogynistic messages of implied rape. I feel sick. There is so much work to be done in such a short time and now that we have elected the “grabber in chief” to run this country I am afraid for what that means for her future. How do I make her understand that consent is still meaningful in an environment of entitlement? I can only hope that my words empower her even as she hears the president talk about grabbing women by the “pussy” so that she understands that the behavior he has bragged about is never okay.

It is not only parents of girls who are struggling with how to raise their children at a time when “boys will be boys” behavior and “locker room” talk which degrades women goes without punishment. In a discussion group at church the other evening, one of the mothers present spoke up about her concerns raising two boys at a time when someone such as Trump is not held accountable for his remarks or his behavior towards women.

As a mother, my worries are for my daughter. As a progressive Christian, I am left wondering how the kigdom of God on earth is possible when women continue to be sexually humiliated, denigrated, demeaned and abused. Christianity begins with commandment to love: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34035) Violence, abuse and a sense of conquest have no place in a narrative of love.

I for one will continue to speak out against these injustices for my daughter’s sake and for so many other daughters in this country.

Are you listening Donald?

Muslim Registry…One giant step towards internment

One of the most heinous election promises made by president elect Donald Trump was that he would institute a national registry of all Muslims living in this country.

Quickly emerging from the aftermath of the election are the voices of Trump supporters holding him to his promise. Most notably, during an interview on Fox News with Megan Kelly, Navy Seal Carl Higbie not only supported the idea of a Muslim registry as a way to protect Americans but cites the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as a precedent.

japanese

The voice of actor George Takei is straining to be heard above the din of anti-Muslim hysteria in this country. Best known as Mr. Sulu from Star Trek, Mr. Takei is a Japanese American who understands the pain of being targeted by the irrational fears of a nation. During World War II, he and his family were forced into an internment camp as a security measure at a time when this country was a war with Japan. His parents, both born in this country, met in Los Angeles, married, and started a family. George was four when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor plunging this country into one of its darkest hours. Responding to the hysteria and fear of the moment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all Japanese-Americans to be rounded up and held without trial or due process in internment camps. In a recent TED video, Takei recounts his experience as well as why he still believes in democracy and a country that once betrayed him.

takei

Takei has condemned the idea of requiring all Muslims to register calling it a “prelude to internment”. He calls out the injustice of being a citizen that is suddenly stripped of their rights and imprisoned based on irrational fear. Takei provides a much needed voice from the past that can still speak first hand of the experiences of internment.

For those that may be sitting idly by thinking that something like this most certainly coult not happen again in this great country, think again. One of the aspects of this that I find most horrific is that in 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. While this decision has been widely regarded as one of the Courts most shameful, it has yet to be overturned since no other similar case has ever been brought before it. At a time when Trump may hold the future balance of the court in his hands, it is anyone’s guess how a future court might rule.

As a progressive Christian, I stand behind the most basic of all of Jesus’ teachings: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Mark 12:31) These words seem so simple, yet as a society they are often the most difficult to live by. I love my Muslim neighbors and I am committed to standing up for their rights. Some of my friends who are also Christians have stated that they will register as Muslim if the registry is put into effect as an act of solidarity. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is already mobilizing efforts to combat the idea of registering Muslims and has called on Trump to disavow his surrogate Higbie. They stand prepared to sue to defend the rights of Muslims. I stand with them.

LGBT Rights vs The Christian Right

As a woman who identifies as a gay Christian, I have watched this election cycle very closely. Two years ago, LGBT people across this country were dancing in the streets when the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land. My partner and I rejoiced for our own family when we considered the legal protections that would now be guaranteed to ourselves and to our children. However, at a time of such overwhelming hope and elation, I could not help but shake the fear that the fight was far from over and that we could not stand for one moment to become complacent with our new found freedom.

Fast forward two years to the most bitterly contested election cycle in modern times. Much is at stake for every citizen of this country and it seems that the collective fears of the nation have been brought to the fore. From a personal standpoint, my fear is that the Christian Right with its homophobic agenda will succeed in its mission of destroying families because they do not conform to their ideas of what God intended. One of the favorite sons of this movement, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Republican for president on a staunch platform of overturning marriage equality in favor of traditional family values.

With his candidacy for president behind him, Rubio came back to Florida to try and win back his seat on the Senate. Ironically enough, it was a visit to the site of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy  that motivated him to run again, an event that shook the LGBT community to its core. While Rubio claimed he was “deeply impacted” by the massacre you have to wonder what it was that he saw in the blood and carnage left behind by the shooting because within weeks, he was the special guest at the “Rediscovering God in America Project” hosted by the Florida Renewal Project which is affiliated with the American Renewal Project whose leader, David Lane espouses a view that LGBT  people will lead to the downfall of this country.

Official Portrait

I am a native Floridian; Marco Rubio is my senator. Politics has hit home in a very personal way. The way I see it, the Christian Right slings God around like a sledgehammer as it attempts to break apart families and undermine the rights of the LGBT community. And yet, as a Christian myself I can find no justification for this intolerance. The Jesus that I encounter in the biblical texts is loving and inclusive, opening his arms to all those he encounters. Nowhere is that more apparent to me than when Jesus feeds the masses that had come to hear him:

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled” (Matt 14:19-20)

It cannot be more clear to me that the Kingdom of God is meant for all of God’s children. It is not an exclusive club that can be hijacked by the interests of those who want to claim it only for themselves. And yet, those of us in the LGBT community cannot afford to let down our guard for fear that rights that have been granted can also be taken away. There is no room for complacency. It all begins with a vote…..

 

 

Terminator Terror…Killer Drones

The headline was enough to scare me: “The Pentagon’s Terminator Conundrum: Robots that could Kill on their own”. Chills literally ran down my spine as I thought of drones capable of making life and death decisions without human intervention.

The idea that it is even conceivable to send a soulless hunk of metal out into the battle field to identify and kill enemy combatants is more than just surreal….it is Godless. In fact, I would like to make a case that these drones show what a would without any guiding values is like.

The prophet Micah envisions a time when “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”. (Micah 4:3) And yet here we are in 2016, beating our swords and spears into new weapons of destruction equipped with artificial intelligence making them capable of “thinking” on their own.

Drones have been used on the battlefield for some time but their actions have been guided by human hands located at a remote site; in some instances thousands of miles away. It has been argued that the use of drone technology on the battlefield helps limit the casualties experienced by our soldiers. Now that technology is being taken to the next level….drones outfitted with artificial intelligence which enables them to “think” on their own without any human intervention. Let me make this clear…these metal soldiers are designed not simply to go out into the battlefield and report back findings. These drones are designed to be killing machines that can make a life and death determination as to who they should kill.

drone

While these weapons are touted as augmenting the abilities of human soldiers rather than replacing them, the possibilities are more ominous. While officials seek to distance themselves from the idea of a reality based Terminator scenario by claiming that human action will always be part of the picture, I am not alone in being skeptical of this claim. I am also not alone in seeing the implications of this technology being developed by enemy combatants as well as extremists.

The world seems to be moving further and further away from Micah’s vision in which war is learned no more and where nation will be at peace with nation. Even further from a time when “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees and no one shall make them afraid”. (Micah 4:4)

I for one am very afraid of the implications of this new technology that removes the humanity from war and shifts it to automation. While drones can be programmed with all kinds of technology that makes them excellent soldiers in the field, they cannot be programmed to factor human emotions into the equation or a sense of right and wrong. These drones lack the capacity to understand whether what they are doing is moral or ethical or to factor in love and compassion for humanity. There is simply no God or shared human values in their equation…no moral standards to which they are held accountable.

Killing machines cannot sin because they have no souls. That really scares me…

Asian Racism…This is 2016

When I hear the words “Make America Great Again” I immediately cringe and worry for my daughter. Let’s forget for a moment all of the issues that have been brought up in this election cycle that show us the obstacles she will face growing up as a female in this society. Instead, I want to focus on the undertone of this slogan which is “Make America White Again”. You see, seven years ago I went on a journey of a lifetime a world away to China to adopt a beautiful 18 month old girl.

As a Christian, I have been taught that we are all a reflection of the Divine image. When I look at my daughter I see God in her face; others immediately notice her eyes which are distinctly Asian. Kids her age are intrigued when they see that I am her mother and they ask curious questions about why my daughter and I do not look alike. Often it is they eyes that they focus on and even in their nascent understanding of the world they realize that she has a distinctive feature that is unlike their own. However, after a brief moment they are back on the playground again laughing and jumping around. If only they could stay children forever.

One of the most powerful gospel lessons is found in Matthew when Jesus says: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:3

imagesj7i22hi3

Instead of our society being a reflection of our children, it is instead molded by the predominate culture and values to which our children are exposed. In America, that predominate culture has been structured around white values which view white bodies and culture as normative. Over time, these natural curiosities turn into aspects that divide and categorize.

I recently ran across a video posted in the New York Times titled #thisis2016 in which Asian Americans reflect on some of the racist experiences that they have been having in the here and now…in 2016.

As documented on the website Asian Nation, Asians have had a difficult time in this country since they began arriving here in the mid 1800’s. As Asians increasingly become part of the American landscape you would think acceptance would grow. Instead, as noted on this site, over the last 20 years racist incidents against Asians in this country have been on the rise as they increasingly become targets of racist.

My daughter is eight now. She often comes to me to ask questions about racial injustice towards African Americans that she has been seeing in the news. We speak openly about racial injustice in all forms and I see the difficulty she has wrapping her mind around the idea of hatred based on skin color or country of origin….or the shape of one’s eyes. How strange that must seem in the mind of a child that just wants to go out and run on the playground with their friends.

My prayer on this day is simple….Dear God, teach us to become like children so that no one’s son or daughter has to ever be victim of racist hatred again…#thisis2016