When is the dawn?

illegal immigrants

I am a wife…a mother…a grandmother…a minister…a poet…a musician. All of these parts of me make it possible for me to connect with others in various ways. I can see others who share one or more of those same roles and have at least some appreciation of how they have the same needs and concerns I do.

But recently I find myself shaking my head and asking myself why there seems to be such a disconnect between what we (all of us) say we believe and how we see–and act toward–others.

I saw someone saying that while they were sure the Pope reads the Bible, he must not understand it, because there isn’t any place in the Bible where we are told to help the poor. I hear others calling for a wall to be built in order to somehow protect us from people who are seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Others call for removal of programs that have been safety nets for those in need. Still others act–and speak–as though selfishness is a virtue…and that those who have less don’t deserve any better.

Really? I can think of several places in the Bible that would contradict those philosophies:

1 John 3:17-19

 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him.

James 2:14-20

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

Matthew 25:31-5-45

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Isaiah 58:6-7

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

In my own faith tradition, we have been given recent counsel as well that is pertinent:

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

If I call myself a follower of the one who was called the Christ, then I cannot ignore those in need. I am aware that there are issues we need to deal with regarding immigration, safety net programs, fair wages…but I have to also be willing to see “the others” as my brothers and sisters…children of the same God who created me.

There is an old rabbinic story in which the rabbi asks, “Children, how can we determine this moment of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?”

One person responded, “When I see the difference between a dog and a sheep?”

“No,” said the rabbi.

A second person asked, “Is it when I can see the difference between a fig tree and grapevine?”

“No.”

“Please tell us the answer,” said the students.

The old rabbi responded, ‘You know when the night ends and the day begins when you can look into the face of any human being and have enough light to recognize that person as your brother or your sister; when you can say, ‘I see myself in you.’ Up until that time it is night, and the darkness is still with us.”

How much longer before we see the dawn?

Decision made

In my last post I indicated that I had been struggling with making a decision about a potential job. Well, I’ve made it…and I’ve decided not to apply.

This was a situation where there was’t a “right or wrong” decision. Either one would have been fine.

But I had found myself really struggling–and unable to figure out why. As I said, one day my answer was an unequivocal “yes” but the next day it was “maybe” or sometimes, even “no.” I had several people encouraging me to apply…and lots of support. So why couldn’t I just jump in and say “yes”?

Last night I read the job description to my husband (who had been leaving the decision up to me). As we talked about it, I was finally able to articulate the reason for my ambivalence. It wasn’t fear, which was one of the things I’d been wondering about. Yes, there would have been some new responsibilities that I hadn’t had before–but he reminded me that I’d taken on new responsibilities in other situations and had been able to learn and do them well.

But what I realized was that I need to do things that I have a passion for–and the primary responsibilities in this position were not things I’m passionate about. The mission of the organization is something I’m passionate about…but being an administrator is not.

Could I have done it? Yes, I’m sure I could have. But would it have been fulfilling? I don’t think so.

So I’ve made my decision…and I’m comfortable with it.

Life is so often like that. There are so many situations where there are multiple options, any of which would be acceptable. The trick is to focus on the things one is passionate about.

“Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” – Jon Bon Jovi

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” – Steve Jobs

Making the “right” decision

Sometimes I think it would be wonderful if life could be lived with only “right” or “wrong” decisions…if there were only two choices. But life isn’t like that–most of the time.

Sometimes there isn’t a “right” choice. There may instead be several right choices–and you have to decide which one is more appealing or works best for you.

That’s where I am right now.

I am retired from a job I held for 15 years. I hadn’t planned on retiring when I did, but because of the way my job was defined, I was faced with mandatory retirement.

However…there have definitely been upsides to it. For the last two years I’ve been privileged to be the primary caregiver for our granddaughter. Not the only one, because her other grandparents also take care of her when they are able to. But because they are both working, she’s been at our house much of the time…and we’ve developed a close and special relationship.

But now…

A job opportunity has become available that really intrigues me. It ties in with much of what I did prior to my retirement, and it deals with music, one of my passions. There are some aspects of it that aren’t quite as appealing, but that’s true of any situation.

At the moment it’s a part-time job…and that’s appealing…although it’s expected to grow. The timing of it seems to work well, too. My granddaughter’s parents are looking at putting her into half-day preschool this fall so that she can have more socialization with children, something she is wanting.

But do I really want to apply? One day my answer is “absolutely!” The next day I’m more ambivalent. I would be okay with either getting it or not; it’s just deciding whether or not I want to apply.

I find myself wondering if it’s my fears holding me back. The other day I wrote this as I was mulling over this possibility:

What if our fears
are merely a ploy
to keep us from doing
what we’re capable of?
What if we really are stronger
than the world has allowed us to know?
What if we have a voice
with words that need to be shared
but a voice that we’ve given others
the power to silence?

What if…what if?

The world then dies
slowly–and softly,
one unheard voice at a time.

I don’t know yet what my decision is going to be. I have to decide by the end of this month. But what I do know is that I don’t want my decision to be made out of fear…and I want to be willing to realize that sometimes there isn’t one right decision. There may be several–and the choice is mine.

Peace IS the journey

I think many of us find ourselves thinking about peace this way:

Straight-journey-to-peace

But in actuality, it’s more like this:

Journey to peace

Peace isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. A never-ending journey, because just when we think we’ve “made it,” something else happens in our lives to make us realize that there’s another aspect of peace we need to work on.

I recently read a book titled Undivided. It’s by two women–a mother and daughter–who found themselves struggling to keep their family connection while dealing with a situation that could have been (and was, for a while) very divisive. Patricia (the mother) is a devout Christian; Alana (the daughter) converted to Islam. For ten years–ten years!–they didn’t talk about their differences. They couldn’t. They basically ignored them and tried to continue life.

But differences like that can’t be ignored forever. They become a huge elephant that dominates everything, even if never openly acknowledged. Sooner or later they will demand to be spoken of.

Patricia and Alana shared their journey through alternating chapters, chapters they appear to have written alternately. then shared with each other and responded to. There’s a lot of frustration and anger with each other, a lot of hurt that’s been held in and needs to be expressed. There’s a lot of misunderstanding.

Their journey isn’t over, but it’s a start.

There are difficult discussions we all have to have. We have to learn to listen to each other–truly listen, not just be quiet while we’re thinking how we’re going to respond. We’re going to hear things from each other that we don’t want to hear. We’re going to have to be willing to acknowledge that even though we may have grown up in the same country…the same community…the same city…even the same family, we’re going to have experienced life differently–and we’re going to have to give those life experiences validity, even when we don’t understand.

It’s not going to be easy. But we’re at a crossroads, and we can either continue down the road of misunderstandings that leads to conflict–or we can take the difficult road that is the journey to peace.

Propagating Hope

On August 9, I played for a service in memory of the bombing of Nagasaki 70 years ago. While it was a somber service, there was also a sense of hope…hope that we can–and will–create a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Richard Rhodes was the keynote speaker. He has spent 30 years studying the bombing and other aspects of the nuclear age. One of the things that he said really struck me. Despite the awfulness of the situation we have lived under since the bombing, he is hopeful that at least by our grandchildren’s time, we will have created a world without nuclear weapons.

His comment was this…that one way or another we will have a world without weapons. We will either have banned / outlawed them (even though we cannot put the knowledge of how to create them back in the genie’s bottle)…or we will have used them and destroyed ourselves and the world.

When you put it that starkly, there is only one option.

But I still found myself struggling…and my struggle has to do with how much I am willing to live out what I believe.

Listening to Richard Rhodes reminded me that MAD (mutually assured destruction) is an impossible way to live and bring true peace. There are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over. Why?

War does not bring peace. Haven’t we discovered that by now?

I’m reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

So if I believe that, why am I so afraid to live it?

I do not want to continue to live in a world that is standing on the abyss of self-destruction. I do not believe that is why we were created.

But I’m scared to take that first step…and scared not to. But I don’t want to live in fear any longer.

A venerable old sage once asked his disciples, “How can we know when the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming?”

“When we can see a tree in the distance and know that it is an elm and not a juniper,” ventured one student.

“When we can see an animal and know that it is a fox and not a wolf,” chimed in another.

“No,” said the old man, “those things will not help us.”

Puzzled, the students demanded, “How then can we know?”

The master teacher drew himself up to his full stature and replied quietly, “We know the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming when we can see another person and know that this is our brother or our sister; otherwise, no matter what time it is, it is still dark.”

Do we still burn witches?

I have always been fascinated by the Salem witch trials. What made folks turn on their neighbors? What made some so vulnerable?

I always thought that there were lots of witches found…and a lot burned at the stake. However, as I grew older and did more reading, I found that what I had thought I knew wasn’t so.

Yes, there have been witch hunts for several hundred years, beginning back in the 15th century. And yes, many people were executed for “being” witches–both male and female. However, there was a difference in how they were executed. In Europe, witches tended to be burned, because that was a more painful death. In America, judges seemed to prefer hanging.

Whichever form of execution was used, the fact remains that over the years, somewhere between 40,000-50,000 people were killed because they were seen as being witches.

We look back at that and talk about how misguided and barbaric people were then. We take pride in the fact that–in the United States, at least–we don’t execute people for being witches today.

But…

What made people vulnerable to that charge?

There were many reasons for witch hunts, but they usually arose because of some kind of bad luck. Perhaps there was a drought. Perhaps a number of people fell ill. Sometimes there were religious reasons…or feuds between individuals. There was no one reason.

But when the witch hunts began, the most vulnerable were the ones who didn’t fit in for one reason or another. Some had the misfortune to be on the wrong side of a powerful individual. Others believed the wrong doctrine. Some may have had mental issues. Others (especially women) were healers and herbalists whose knowledge went against accepted medical understanding of the time.

Today, we don’t accuse people of being witches and execute them for those reasons. But we still turn against the vulnerable…those who don’t fit in…those who confront the status quo and force us to face ourselves in ways we don’t like.

So…we don’t burn witches.

But neither do we do a very good job of helping the most vulnerable be safe.

According to figures I found for 2014, approximately 33% of the homeless are dealing with mental illness. Many of them are vulnerable to being attacked physically. And the odds of them being able to get better through medication are slim.

Somewhere between 40% of the homeless population are under the age of 18, and 20-40% of the homeless youth are members of the LGBT communities. Many of these kids are fleeing domestic violence or are “throw-away” kids.

Transgender women are vulnerable to assaults and/or murder. Transgender women of color seem to be especially vulnerable.

Why do we continue to divide ourselves? For those of us who claim to follow the one called Jesus Christ, we are called to stand with those who are marginalized and vulnerable. It’s far too late for the many who were accused of witchcraft in the past–and who often found themselves persecuted (and executed) by those who claimed to be followers of Christ.

But it’s not too late for the many vulnerable today.

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” — Luke 4:18 The Message