To speak out

There is a poem that has been attributed to Martin Niemoller, a pastor during the 1930s. At first he was supportive of Hitler’s rise to power–but when Hitler insisted that the state was supreme over the church, Niemoller became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. Following the war, he became a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people. The poem is a poetic paraphrase based on several speeches he gave…and I think it is well for us to think of it today:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

It has been far too easy for many of us who claim to be Christians to not speak out on what we see as injustices…because they have not directly impacted us personally. But there is also a poem by John Milton that–I think–says something similar:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

When I was a teenager, I remember watching the Civil Rights marches on television. I could not believe the cruelty of “good Christians” who honestly believed that it was against God’s will to Negroes to want the same human rights as they had…the rights to good education, housing, transportation…freedom from fear of lynching…freedom to fall in love with anyone they chose–and to marry that individual. I marveled at the courage of many of those young people my own age as they confronted snarling dogs, fire hoses aimed at them, people spitting at them and beating them–and yet turning the other cheek…not returning violence with violence.

Today I am dismayed at what I see and hear from many more who consider themselves good Christians–and yet who are willing to deny their LGBTQ brothers and sisters the same human rights they want for themselves. I hear many of the same arguments I heard years ago, only now applied to another group of people who are “not us.” I know there are many who honestly struggle with what they have believed God says and the desires of the LGBTQ community to find a spiritual home where they can also worship God and be fully accepted–not just tolerated. I can understand that struggle.

What I have difficulty with is the harshness of those who say that gays should be killed…or sterilized…or imprisoned just for being who they are or for having fallen in love with someone of the same sex. I have known too many people who have struggled with their own sexuality and with how they have been taught to see themselves by the church…and seen them leave the institution they have loved–and the institution denied their giftedness.

I cannot imagine what many have gone through. I have heard the voices that say sexuality is a choice–and yet I don’t remember ever making a conscious choice to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. It’s simply part of who I am. Can I not accept that as being true for someone else?

I have heard others say that homosexuality may not be a choice…but choosing to act on it is, and so to be accepted, LGBTQ individuals must live in celibacy. How can we be so cruel? Some may make that choice for themselves–and that is their choice. But we are created with a need to be connected with each other, with a need to nurture and to be nurtured. How dare we demand that some must choose to live that way because we do not understand?

I have also heard “love the sinner but hate the sin.” That sounds good–but how can we separate the two? I know there are some aspects of life in which that can be done–it is fairly easy to separate the sin of murder from the one who does the deed. But when we are talking about something that is such an intrinsic part of who we are–our sexuality–how can we separate that into two distinct parts? I can’t.

I empathize with those who are struggling with understanding. I’ve been there. But I’ve also come to know that the God I worship is a God who is okay with our struggle–but who also calls us to stand with the marginalized…with those who are too often seen as “other than”.

There are too many laws being passed–not just in this country, but worldwide–that put members of the LGBTQ community outside the walls we have built to protect ourselves, and it is time to say “Enough!” We are all brothers and sisters, and while we will never all think alike, we must be willing to talk with each other…to struggle together…and to find ways of worshiping in full acceptance with each other…and to let God’s holy spirit work within us to bring healing and reconciliation.

Philippians 4:8

Wondering what the title of this post is referring to? Here’s two versions (the more traditional one from the NRSV and a contemporary rephrasing from The Message):

NRSV: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The Message: Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

That particular scripture has been pushing itself to the forefront of my mind as I’ve been reading Facebook recently. It seems like there are so many of us who are willing to believe the worst about anything/anyone we don’t agree with. I see posts accusing our president of undermining the Constitution…conspiracy theories…name calling… At times it really makes me sad!

That doesn’t mean that I think we all have to put on masks of agreement and say “Everything’s okay” even when we believe otherwise. I believe that disagreement has a legitimate place in our dialogue with each other. But there’s an important word in that last sentence–dialogue.

Dialogue means talking with each other, not past each other. It means being willing to listen…willing to acknowledge that we may not know everything we think we know. It means holding the possibility of changing one’s mind.

I know that not everyone who posts or reads is a Christian–and I’m okay with that. But I think that every major religion has something in their philosophy similar to this statement in Christianity. Maybe a simpler form of saying the same thing is simply the Golden Rule…a version of which is found in all the major religions.

Can you imagine what a better world this would be if we were all willing to live what we say we believe?


To be an athlete

Let it be said first of all that I am definitely not an athlete! Just ask my brothers!! While I am a musician, somehow that ability to keep time and rhythm didn’t adhere to my physical coordination. In basketball, I would always be called for “traveling.” In gymnastics, I could do somersaults, and that was about it. In baseball, I got hit in the face while serving as catcher. In rhythmic drill team, I could never get the steps straight. You’re getting the picture…right?

But that doesn’t mean that athletics and I don’t get along. We do–as long as I’m watching someone else perform.

And that really holds true as I watch the Olympic games. Yes, I know there are some who are boycotting watching the games for what they consider valid reasons. I understand those reasons–and in many ways support them. But at the same time, I want to support the athletes who have spent so much time and energy preparing to give the best they can on an international stage.

I still think some of them are nuts! I mean, I can’t imagine going down a steep hill on two small pieces of wood (or one, depending on the sport)…launching myself high into the air and turning somersaults….and planning on landing on two feet as I fall out of the sky. Nor can I see myself going 60-70 miles per hour down a steep ice run, not being able to see where I’m going and steering myself with only slight movements of my body. Don’t even ask me about stepping onto the ice on two sharp blades and depending on a partner to throw me into the air and then catch me before I throw myself into another jump!

Some come, knowing they have absolutely no chance of winning medals. But for them, simply having the opportunity to be there…to represent their countries in a positive way…is reason enough for competing.

And then there are those who come in with the expectations of their countries (and in some cases, the world) sitting on their shoulders. They are supposed to win medals–preferably gold, but at least to be on the podium. Sometimes they are able to live up to those expectations…sometimes the expectations are simply too heavy. And sometimes things simply go wrong that are out of their control.

There are several things that made me think about this. One was watching the men’s short program in figure skating last night. I had so hoped that Jeremy Abbott would be able to redeem himself from his horrible fall in the team ice skating event. He didn’t…and yet he did. He took another nasty fall just seconds into his program, and it looked like he might not be able to get up. But he did–and he skated the rest of his program. It wasn’t what he had hoped for in these games, yet he didn’t give up. He could have…but that wasn’t why he was there. I’m hoping that even though his medal hopes are gone that he’ll have a wonderful long program.

I think of Noelle Pikus-Pace who is competing in one of the craziest sports–skeleton. She has also undergone injuries, a miscarriage, and retirement…only to realize that she wasn’t through. She’s back…but this time she has her family with her. She’s found the balance for her between competition and family.

Then there’s Anton Gafarov, the Russian skiier who was competing in the men’s sprint in front of his home crowd. He had a horrible run and was out of medal competition–but he was going to continue, even though it meant walking to the finish line, not skiing. But the Canadian coach gave him a ski–not just giving it to him, but fastening it for him, allowing Gafarov to finish with dignity.

And there are more stories. There always are from the Olympics. There are so many stories and pictures of athletes from different countries celebrating together, worrying about each other, consoling each other…

Somehow, even in the middle of fierce competition, these athletes have found something else important…something that has helped them understand that while they want to win, they want to help each other do the best they can as well. If only we could do the same…

Untold stories

This past weekend we were in Nauvoo, Illinois, attending an informal history discussion of “untold stories.” For those of you who don’t know, Nauvoo is a city with strong ties to all Restoration movements (Community of Christ, Mormon, Strangites, Cutlerites, and many, many others). It was the last place that was a hoped-for “perfect” community before Joseph Smith was murdered, and the church began splitting into many different directions.

While many of the stories this weekend dealt with parts of that tradition, many others did not…but were focused on Nauvoo before or after the time the Mormons were its primary citizens. And there were many interesting stories (including stories of two priests who were significant in the development of Chicago and Detroit who began their ministry around Nauvoo…and Nauvoo’s reputation as the Napa Valley of the area prior to Prohibition–I had no idea there had been over 400,000 grape vines and numerous wineries there)!

At the same time, I was reading James McBride’s book The Color of Water–the story of his life interspersed with his mother’s, which she had not talked about prior to that time. She always called herself a “light-skinned” woman, and when her children (twelve of them!) asked questions about her family, she either ignored them or evaded them with brief non-answers. When McBride finally discovered that she was in fact the daughter of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Poland, he had to rethink much of what he thought he knew about his mother.

It got me to wondering just how many untold stories there are in our own families and faith traditions. What do we not know? and how would our beliefs and perceptions change if we did know them?

As we were coming back home, we came across Iowa on the auto route of the Mormon trail–the route families followed when they were driven out of Nauvoo…at about this time of year. I had known about it, at least intellectually. It wasn’t an event that directly impacted my family. But as we drove across that area, seeing the snow covering the ground…seeing the distance (still) between homes and recognizing that most of the small towns we passed through were not there then…and feeling the bone-chilling cold…I began to wonder how many untold stories there were from that experience.

History has traditionally been written by the victors in any conflict–and by male writers. What stories are we missing from women’s perspectives? How would our understanding of experiences change if we had their viewpoints? What lessons could we have learned?

I know that there’s no way we can keep all the stories of our families, our cities, our faith traditions? But more than ever, now, I am beginning to understand the importance of trying to get a variety of stories–because it’s only in seeing those various perspectives that we can begin to understand who we are…and learn the lessons we need to learn.

There’s a good reason for it!

Let me start this post by making sure everyone who reads it knows just how much I love my grandchildren! They’re wonderful!! And I am thoroughly enjoying watching my 6-month-old granddaughter.

But as I am watching her, I am (again!) coming to realize that there is a reason why it’s younger women who give birth–and us older ones often look forward to menopause. There’s a good reason for that change of life!

If the worst came to pass and I needed to step in to raise my grandchildren, I would in a heartbeat! There is no way I would ignore their needs–not if I had any way of meeting them.

And…if I had become pregnant naturally at age 50 (or so), I’d have loved that child just as much as I love my grown children.

But…I’m reminded of a couple of news stories I saw a few years ago of women who intentionally got pregnant at ages 50+ through artificial insemination. Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad that artificial insemination has made it possible for women to conceive who would not have been able to otherwise. But…to want to choose to become pregnant at 50+? No way!! (Not for me, anyway!)

Babies take a lot of time and energy. You can’t just plop them in a playpen and ignore them. They’ll let you know they’re unhappy!! And they need mental stimulation as well.

Now some of that I can do…but I don’t have anywhere near the energy I had when I was in my 20s. So to have a baby 24/7? No thanks…

There definitely is good reason for menopause!