Category: Columns


As I mentioned in a previous post, this blog, as well as christianpiatt.org, is going away. Not sure how I got so many things spread all over the place, but I’m finally getting it together all in one place. my podbean podcast is also going into retirement, so if you follow that and want to figure out where it’s going, as well as the blog, read on…

There are two ways to follow the blog. One is through an app on facebook called NetWorkedBlogs, which basically just picks up the RSS feed from my site. But everything I publish goes through there. If you’re on facebook and prefer to keep things together there, go here:

CLICK THIS LINK TO FOLLOW MY BLOG VIA FACEBOOK

If you want to follow either the blog, the podcast or both directly from my website, you can pick up the RSS feed in the top, right corner of any page at www.christianpiatt.com, or you can go directly to the feed here:

CLICK HERE FOR THE FEED FOR MY BLOG AND PODCAST

You can also do a search for my name in iTunes and follow the podcast there if that’s your preferred way of tracking podcasts. The podcast’s name is “CHRISTIAN PIATT OUTCASTS.”

Finally, I have an eZine I’ll be publishing from my site called WORD, which will come out roughly once a month. It’s free, and you can sign up from my site. If you already signed up for the FAITH PORTALS newsletter, it’s the same thing, just retooled a little, so no need to sign up again. I’m looking for fresh content to share through this other than just my own, so if you have an article, podcast, video, etc that you think my readers would dig, hit me up.

Peace,
Christian Piatt

Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at www.christianpiatt.com. You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Peace,
Christian Piatt

Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank
NewSpin
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric have a long way to go before they can begin to replace our energy consumption derived from oil. So aside from locking up our cars in the garage, what options are we left with?

One local group believes that biofuels may be at least part of that answer. Hal Holder, Joel Lundquist, and Rick young are all Rocky Ford farmers and co-owners of Big Squeeze, LLC a biofuel production facility here in our own back yard. And although most such projects are either concept projects only or tied to some nameless government or corporate entity, Big Squeeze is actually accessible by anyone with a diesel engine.

The concept is pretty simple. The Big Squeeze facility has presses and centrifuges that yield oil from plant seeds than then can be combined in a four-to-one ratio with diesel and used in everything from cars to tractors and industrial generators. This reduces the use of fossil fuels by eighty percent and attacks some other issues along the way, such as global warming, water shortages and in-state economic development.

I talked with Dr. Perry Cabot, a Water Resources Specialist in the Colorado State University system, about why this seems like a good idea. Biofuels, he explained, include anything that is considered a renewable resource that can yield usable energy.

“Biofuels are considered ‘carbon neutral’ with respect to CO2 emissions (i.e., CO2 produced during combustion is offset by CO2 used during photosynthesis to grow biofuel crops),” says Dr. Cabot. So although CO2 is released in the process, the idea is that the same amount will be re-absorbed by the plants grown for your next use.

But what about water? In a state where we’re already fallowing land so water can be used in growing urban settings, how can we think about expanding our farming?

“In desert climates, we’re always shooting for ‘more crop per drop,’” says Cabot, “Ethanol from corn takes a fair amount of water (24 inches or more) and the energy balance is tough to pin down. Some reports have documented substantial net-positive direct energy balances, while others contend that ethanol production is an ‘energy negative’ situation (takes more energy to produce than is contained in the final product).”

It should also be noted that the byproduct left after the oil is squeezed out is perfect for livestock food at feedlots. Ever seen a cow munching on a petroleum byproduct? Didn’t think so.

But crops like winter canola, which is ideal for diesel-based biofuels, use much less water than corn or other common crops. In fact, using limited irrigation techniques, Cabot suggests that farmers can even use land temporarily fallowed due to the sale of water rights to grow winter canola. This is where water wonks like Dr. Cabot come in, working with the farmers on irrigation plans, and striving for the ideal seeds that yield more canola with less water.

Cabot believes that such ideas can allow farmers in other arid climates grow valuable crops on land they have not been able to farm before due to lack of water storage or transfer. This could include economically struggling economies such as those in sub-Saharan Africa or other arid parts of the United States.

One argument against biofuels is that they impinge on land already being used for edible food, and when the product they yield is more valuable as a fuel, those depending on the crops for sustenance are out of luck (i.e., the poor and those living in developing countries). This is where using a low-water crop is particularly value, says Cabot. Ideally, the process adds arable land available to farmers, increasing their overall production rather than trading one for another.

Dr. Cabot acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect, but that it’s a critical step toward our collective goal of energy independence. “I like quote General George Patton,” he says “who used to say that ‘a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.’ So, until electric cars really come on line, or algae biodiesel bears out, we need something that will keep the trains moving, keep interstate commerce going, and keep tractors running so farmers can farm.

“I think oilseeds are the ‘good plan today’ that will bridge us to the newer generation of fuel that we’ll see in the next 20 or 30 years. So, my end goal is to increase the demand and production of oilseeds in Colorado, in tandem as an energy solution coupled with a water solution.”

So do we just drive up to the Big Squeeze facility with our diesel car and fill ‘er up? Not just yet, says Cabot. “Oilseed cropping, particularly canola and sunflower, is practiced in numerous regions of the Arkansas Valley,” he says. “There are ongoing variety trials in Rocky Ford (Otero County) and Walsh (down in Baca County). There is also a growing interest and some cropping of canola and sunflowers down in Lamar (Prowers County).”

The reason, Cabot says, that growth of such crops is increasing is specifically because farmers know they have a facility like Big Squeeze where they can have their oilseed processed. “Historically, the lack of crushing facilities in the area has stifled interest in using these crops for fuel, he says. “But now, with (Big Squeeze) in Rocky Ford and the expansion of the Colorado Mills facility in Lamar, the seed can be crushed locally.”

Basically, those interested in using such fuels contract with farmers to lease a certain acreage it is estimated will be needed to fulfill their energy needs for the coming year. This lease converts to credits at a biofuel co-op that can be cashed in at the time of fill-up. Currently, there are no local stations that the average Joe or Jane can access, but Cabot hopes this will change in the near future.

For more information, read a recent article on the Big Squeeze and CSU’s collaborative efforts: http://tinyurl.com/3dkn3mz.

Can people of faith cheer for death?
Smells Like Sprit
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Or something like that.

News spread like a Pueblo West brushfire that Osama Bin Laden, America’s longtime Public Enemy Number One, had been killed in a firefight with Delta Force and Navy SEAL soldiers earlier in May. I wrestled with mixed feelings as I heard President Obama break the news late that Sunday evening, relieved that the manhunt was finally over, but also disturbed by the fatal outcome.

Then I jumped online to chat it up with my fellow Facebookers to see what the pulse of my peers was. The feelings spanned the spectrum, from dismay that our government world embark on secret assassination missions in foreign territory to outright jubilation that the Bad Guy finally got his due.

The latter sentiment really bothered me, though, especially when it came from folks I knew considered themselves to be people of faith. To celebrate the killing of anyone – ever – seems contrary to the tenet that we see (or at least seek to see) God in all of creation. To cheer the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to me an effort to draw a line in the sand between the so-called “sheep” and “goats,” thus ensuring we’re on the side of the righteous.

Are we so sure, though? I’m not saying in any way that the horrendous acts of September 11th, 2001 are justified by any human or divine sense of justice: at least I hope not. But how sure are we that our hands are without similar blemish? And ultimately, how can there ever be peace when the transaction of justice is “blood for blood?”

I guess it raises the question of whether what we are seeking is peace, or our own sense of justice. And when we ascribe what we claim as right and wrong as divinely justified, well, how is that different from what Bin Laden did in the first place?

The whole thing causes me to think back to a story I once read in an August 8th, 2008 post on the Christianity Today website about theologian and author Dietrich Bonheoffer and his opposition to Adolf Hitler. The article says the following about Bonheoffer:

“To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion. Now he signed up with the German secret service (to serve as a double agent—while traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited, but he was, instead, trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression). Bonheoffer also became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler.”

Bonheoffer later was hanged along with other Jewish sympathizers before he could participate in any assassination attempt. But Bonheoffer himself acknowledges the hypocrisy of trying to kill another human being, no matter their evils, in the name of a faith that ultimately calls for peace and reconciliation.

It was in his humanity, not in his faith, that he found the compulsion to kill Hitler. All the while he recognized the discrepancy with what he claimed as his beliefs, yet felt helpless to resort to any, less violent, solution.

In the pop culture sphere, I think of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker chops off Darth Vader’s hand with his light saber, only to look down and realize his own hand had become that of his enemy.

How, after all, do we respond like our enemy without becoming that which we hate? Is it even possible?

The answer to that, as I’ve said in columns past, is above my pay grade. But suffice it to say that Proverbs 24, Verse 17, sums up my feelings about how we’re called to react to such a killing;

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.

Freedom not to be free?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

We’ve all watched history revealing itself in real time with the remarkable events in the Middle East. From Egypt and Libya to Yemen and Bahrain, individuals and small groups of protesters are challenging the iron grasps of decades-long dictatorships. It’s enough to give even the most cynical observer a moment of awe-filled pause.

For the most part, the protesters focus on wanting to bring democracy to their respective countries, a situation that would seem to be a natural for American support. The trouble is, we’ve had economically and strategically beneficial relationships with many of these dictators for a long time. By placing our allegiance with the people in the streets, we run the risk that the revolutions may fail, and that we may be left with a tarnished, if not irreparable, relationship with a former partner.

Does the United States support democracy? Sort of. When it’s in our best interests, to be sure. Yes, we’ve stuck our necks out in some cases where we seemed to have little vested interest, but suffice it to say we drag our feet when there an oil pipeline or American military base involved.

But there are other issues at play here, and I’m not sure any of them are discussed at the level where real decisions are made. One came to light for me when co-editing a recent book for Chalice Press called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.” In it, a pair of self-proclaimed Christian anarchists made the compelling claim that voting, in itself, is an act of violence.

What? The system we’ve come to hold near and practically worship is inherently violent? It took me a while to come around, and though I don’t entirely see eye to eye with them, they make a good point.

The essence of the argument is that, in a democracy, 50 percent of the people plus one more can subjugate the will and rights of the rest. By not making room for the minority’s interests to be heard and acted on in these instances, the minority is marginalized. This, the authors claim, falls within the definition of inflicting violence from the majority onto the minority.

Kinda like Churchill said, it’s a tragically flawed system, but it’s the best we have. But what about in a context where religious ideology is poised to use majority rule to impose potentially severe limits on many of its people? And what if these leaders, though democratically elected, might set out to impose a legal system that is inherently un-democratic?

Some protest groups seek to impose Sharia, an Islamic system of law based upon truths revealed in the Quran by Allah, and through practices embodied by the prophet Muhammad. Sharia, like many ideological systems, has been interpreted in a number of ways by different people, but in some cases it can seriously limit the rights of women. For example, under some understandings of Sharia, men can have up to four wives, women are told what they can and can’t wear in public, and in some cases, they may not be allowed to vote.

So, do we put our material and human resources at risk to support those seeking democracy in their country, all the while knowing that they fully intend to implement a legal system that many believe violates human and civil rights? Or do we keep propping up the dictators who, by fear and threat of violence, may keep a relative peace in the land where the oil runs freely?

Talk about a moral dilemma. Some might even say it’s a lose-lose scenario. Theologian Walter Wink suggests that any violent or oppressive system that is replaced by violent means run a great risk of becoming that which it despised, changing the rulers but not the rules.

Provided the dictators are overthrown, we can always offer to serve in an advisory role on how to effect safeguards that prevent laws that violate individual or collective rights. But if democracy is really just a means to another ideological end, the new powers that be may have no interest in what we have to say.

If we try to implement certain strictures by force, we run the risk of further solidifying our reputation as an imperial power, intent on taking over the region one country at a time. So do we support the uprisings, knowing that what may emerge is another system of governance with which we have fundamental differences? Or do we stand on the sidelines, convincing ourselves that tyrants like Gaddafi aren’t really so bad?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I still believe that the greatest change for the better comes from leading by example. For us, this begins with advocating for truly equal rights across the board in our own back yard, including those who love differently or look differently than we. Until that time, our calls for freedom and equality ring hollow in a world that sees the truth beneath the thin veneer.

Newspin

Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)

Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.

PRO

It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.

CON

It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

NewSpin@ PuebloPULP.com

Deconstructing Pueblo’s inferiority complex

By Christian Piatt

(Originally printed in PULP)

If I had but one wish for our community in the new year, it would be to eliminate the qualifier “for Pueblo” from our collective vocabulary.

I went downtown a few weeks ago to hear a screaming jazz ensemble with my friend Barclay Moffitt, that took the group to new melodic heights with his tenor sax. Though still a college student, Barclay has worked on several studio recording sessions with pros, and currently is on a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back for his winter break, he sat in with a handful of other musical savants and cranked out some of the finest bossa nova, bebop and ballad standards anyone could hear most anywhere, especially on a Tuesday night.

“These guys are really good for Pueblo,” a person nearby said in a tone that clearly was not meant to be secretive. “Where are they from?” When told all of these folks were home-grown talent, they blinked in disbelief, as if such cultural sophistication defied the laws of Pueblo physics.

These guys were good enough for most anywhere, not just Pueblo. So, why say such a thing? And why the surprise? After all, in a country of some 130,000 people, can’t we figure that there will be at least a smattering of folks who are really pretty amazing at most anything we can think of? Or do people believe that Pueblo is an exception to the rule when it comes to quality?

I asked some of our local public leaders their thoughts about this, since I’m sure they bump up against this kind of mentality even more than I do. Angela Giron, our recently elected state senator, offered an interesting anecdote related to this very subject.

“I have a friend, Theresa (she managed my campaign),” says Giron, “who is a community organizer in Pueblo with the Colorado Progressive Coalition.  Following the election, she was diagnosed for the second time in five years with breast cancer.  She is committed to receiving treatment in Pueblo but has received lots of ‘advice’ to leave town to get a second opinion.

“People seem to be genuinely shocked that she is opting to be treated in her home community.  We have had several discussions about this.

“I believe the inferiority complex stems from our identity as a blue-collar steel town.  That class bias, coupled with a geographic identity and culture that seems to find greater affinity with Northern New Mexico than the Northern part of Colorado, has historically left Pueblo (and much of Southern Colorado) on the outs.

“When you come from a community that is working class and 50 percent Latino, it is no surprise, given the history of this country and region, that we have issues with internalized inferiority.”

County Commissioner Jeff Chostner has a different perspective. “I don’t think Pueblo has an inferiority complex,” he says, “but I do think our history has made us look more inward than outward. I believe that is one of our challenges, particularly with regard to economic development, and in other areas as well.

“We are trying to do more outreach with the rest of the Front Range in integrating our economies and cultures.  As more businesses locate in Pueblo and more folks come to Pueblo County, I think you will see us take a more prominent role in Colorado and there will be less introspection.”

So is it a matter of internalized inferiority? Or are we buying the baloney that’s peddled about us up north? Maybe, as Chostner suggests, it’s more a matter of cultural isolation than it is an issue of a “less than” mentality.

Though I’d like to lean more in the commissioner’s direction, my gut tells me Sen. Giron is more on the mark. And based on my discussions with lifelong locals, it doesn’t seem like a state of mind that’s only come along since the steel bust some decades ago. Maybe it starts with what we’re telling our kids, how we help them understand their own worth and, by extension, the value of the community in which they’re raised.

I expect that, as institutions like CSU-Pueblo and international businesses like Vestas broaden the scope of who is drawn to live here, the negative self-doubt ethos will be diluted. That, or it will simply become more concentrated among “lifers” who see themselves as somehow inferior to new imports, simply because of where they come from.

I hope, for the sake of our city and its residents, that we come around to the mindset that it’s the imports who are lucky to have found us, rather than the other way around.

My Lifelong Attraction to Magnet Schools
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

I grew up in Dallas, where the question, “where did you go to school?” meant something very different than it did in Pueblo. There was a sort of constant jockeying for positions on the status ladder, part of which was identified both by the grade school you attended (hopefully private, of course), and then by the caliber of school you went on to from there.

I was fortunate to have gone to one of the more prestigious schools in town. In addition to academic excellence, the school prepared you for life amid the taste-makers of culture and power in the global community. But despite the fact that there were kids from all nationalities and faith backgrounds there, the socioeconomic sameness of the place was strangely stifling to me.

Halfway through my sophomore year in high school, I auditioned to get in to the arts and music magnet school in downtown Dallas. For those of you who have seen the movie or TV show Fame, yes. It was pretty much like you’d imagine it. Bohemians, gay teens and eccentrics of every stripe roamed the halls, generating an energy I had never known existed in private school.

What had once been an all-black school in the slums of Dallas had been reinvented into a community that developed an appeal and a bond that transcended all other differences: the love of creativity.

From then on I was sold on the idea that a magnet school, done properly, could not only transform students’ lives, but that they also had the potential for reinvigorating an entire community.

So when Fountain Elementary of Pueblo’s east side became a magnet school as part of East High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) system, we jumped at the chance to enroll our son, Mattias. He had gone to two different private schools in town before that, neither of which provided the integrated learning and social experience we desired for him. But our experience at Fountain has been quite the opposite.

Yes, we drive by some dilapidated properties to get to his school, and there have been more than a few shootings nearby. I even once found an unspent bullet on the playground of the school. But once inside, Mattias enters into community with children whom he might never come into contact with, absent of the opportunity the IB magnet affords.

The concept of a magnet school is fairly simple. It’s an entirely public school, run completely by the district, which is usually located in a racially and/or economically segregated part of the community. Aside from academic excellence and a unique curriculum of some kind, a magnet is established to do just what the name suggests; draw in people from other parts of town who would not otherwise be there. The concept first arose as efforts emerged to racially desegregate schools a couple of generations ago, and the model obviously still works today.

Our plan is to have Mattias stay in the magnet system throughout his primary and secondary school years, and for his sister, Zoe, who is almost two, to follow in his path. Every child should have such access to outstanding cultural, academic and social experiences. The good news is that kids in Pueblo do have such a choice.

A surprising contingency of people seems to have their knickers in a knot about the so-called mosque at Ground Zero. What once was a retail clothing store has been sitting abandoned for years prior to these plans being drawn up. And though the common-sense response to rehabilitation of urban blight would be hearty support, it’s become a political and social lightning rod.

As can be the case all too often with emotionally-charged debates, people don’t wait for the facts to get in the way of their already-entrenched opinions. So I’ll beg the indulgence of those who already know the following “fun facts” and go ahead and share what really should be common knowledge.

First off, the “Ground Zero mosque” moniker is misleading. The site is blocks away from the former location of the Twin Towers, with any number of liquor stores, adult video arcades and sex-toy shops between them. Given America’s tendency toward sexually puritanical thought, it’s a wonder that a place of worship raises more ire than a window full of dildos.

Next, there’s much noise about this being a mosque, but in reality, the worship space is but a small portion of what is meant to be the Muslim equivalent of a YMCA. The entire center is budgeted at $100 million, and will include a theater, restaurant, workout facilities and more. Proportionately, the mosque itself is a mere fraction of the larger plan.

The mosque actually has actively been functional since last year. Worshipers meet several times a day amid raw Sheetrock and plastic liners to pray on an unfinished concrete floor. So, while all the objections to the mosque being there seem to focus on future development, it’s really only a matter of sprucing up the joint.

Goes to show that it doesn’t take a fancy sanctuary and minaret to invoke the sacred. You listening, Oral Roberts?

Officials representing the mosque have offered as much assurance as is humanly reasonable that no anti-American or otherwise radical talk or behavior will be tolerated. And don’t you think that if a terrorist’s idea were to carry out a nefarious plan without getting caught, a mosque near the location of the 9/11 attacks, that’s the subject of national scrutiny, might not offer the sort of cover they’re looking for in a hideout?

So where is the fear coming from? Research on this has revealed a less-than-shocking correlation between the number of negative rumors people had heard and believed about the Muslim community center and their propensity for watching Fox News as a primary information resource.

Which brings me to another fun fact. There’s been much speculation that radical Islamic groups from the Middle East must be funding the community center’s construction, but actually the primary funder is an organization called the Kingdom Foundation, whose primary benefactor is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Talal is a billionaire who, though it has been implied that he funds radical Islamists, is the second largest shareholder in a company called News Corp with more than $2 billion in holdings in the company. News Corp is a media juggernaut among whose holdings is – wait for it – Fox News.

Ironic, no?

I’ll admit I get some enjoyment out of the fact that the “news” station noted as the primary source for fear-mongering propaganda about the Islamic community center is owned in large part by the guy funding the center. As the now-obscure Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “America, what a country. I love it!”

My take on the center is not only that it should be allowed and tolerated, it should be encouraged by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some opponents of the center say that until Islamic countries build Christian churches near their holy sites we should not have a mosque near Ground Zero, which some people have since labeled as hallowed.

Seems that, in trying to distinguish ourselves from our so-called enemies, we have become more like them.

Another perspective is that an Islamic center near Ground Zero personifies the American values of plurality and peaceful coexistence. The very fact that Taliban propagandists have celebrated the schisms caused by the conflict around the mosque would suggest, perhaps, that we should be working in the opposite direction.

When mainstream Islamic people and groups are welcomed as an integral part of our culture, the work of the fringes claiming the same faith becomes increasingly impotent. It is in the context of ignorance, fear and division that terrorism makes its most indelible mark. We erase such marks from our psyche one relationship and one act of reconciliation at a time.

Some who wish to see the East-West discord continue would like nothing better than to have the community center banned. Illogical as it may seem to some, the greatest counter-terrorism measure we can take against such ideology requires no weapons or troops, but rather an open heart and mind.

The problem is that we have to stop reacting out of fear of what might be long enough to see the simple truth in front of us. It’s an ideal realized easily enough, though maybe not for the most heavily-armed nation in the history of the world.

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