What is our future?

I grew up believing that our future was hopeful…that we were on the cusp of solving many of the problems our world faced. Elected officials might (and did!) disagree with each other on how to solve some of those problems, but they were willing to spend time in serious and honest discussion, trying to find ways to work together.

Now I’m not so sure.

  • I see an increase in saber-rattling.
  • I see distrust of science–and an almost fiendish delight in ignoring science to the point that we are in danger of destroying this planet that we live on.
  • I see an unwillingness to even engage in any kind of serious discussion–by any of us. We don’t seem to be willing to try to listen to each other, much less find ways in which we can work together to solve the significant problems that face us.
  • There is an increase in “I want mine and I don’t care what it does to anyone else or to the planet.”
  • White supremacy is on the rise, with its determination that all other races are “less than” and should be destroyed.
  • The rights of women to make decisions concerning their bodies and their health are being eroded by men who have no understanding of women’s health needs or how a woman’s body works.
  • Children–our precious future–are not being given the education they need and deserve to create a future of hope.
  • We denigrate and demean those who are members of faith traditions other than our own, unwilling to even try to understand their traditions while at the same time demanding that they conform to our own.
  • Families are often being torn apart through policies that are gratuitously cruel.
  • Members of minority groups (immigrants, LBGTQ+, people of color, disabled, single parents) are losing the protections that helped provide a positive future for them.
  • While we talk about extremism in other faith traditions, we seem unwilling to recognize it in our own.
  • We are destroying our environment. Multiple species are on the verge of extinction…and we don’t seem to care. CO2 levels are at an all-time high…and we laugh it off.
  • We are afraid of our diversity.

Is there still hope for us?

I think so…and these two quotes give me hope.

First, from Howard Zinn, a historian and playwright:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

But perhaps more importantly, this one from Anne Frank:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

What’s our future? It’s up to us.

 

Practicing Christian…believing Christian?

I was recently at a retreat where our presenter, Jane Vennard, talked about the way she described herself in the forward to her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive. Her description intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about the meanings of the descriptions she used.

She describes herself as a “practicing Christian” rather than a “believing Christian.” A first response might well be, “Then how can she describe herself as a Christian?” But as I’ve thought about those words, the more sense they make…and are words that I want to claim as my own descriptors.

While others might have different reactions to the choice of words, here’s how they strike me.

Describing oneself as a “believing Christian” has been the default for many of us for many years–and is perhaps the simplest way of defining oneself. That means that there’s a specific list of beliefs that we agree with. It doesn’t necessarily require anything other than saying, “Yes, I believe that…I agree with that.” It allows me to sit comfortably in my pew (or chair) on Sunday morning, nodding my head in agreement, and then going back home until the next time the church doors are open.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to identify as a believing Christian…but I think it’s incomplete.

To be a “practicing Christian” is harder. It’s not that there is a specific list of beliefs that I have to agree with. Rather, my focus is on trying to emulate the example of the one we call the Christ…being with people…listening to them…bringing healing when possible…sharing good news…and all the other things that Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Beliefs may (or may not) grow out of these actions–but if I am working at being a practicing Christian, then my relationships with the people I meet will certainly have more in common with the kinds of ministry Jesus brought.

Ideally I can be both a practicing and a believing Christian…if my beliefs call me to actions that emulate the One whose name I claim. But if it comes down to a choice between them, I will choose to be a practicing Christian because I think that is much more in line with the challenge given to us in Matthew 25:31-46 (this is The Message version):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

What color is your world?

My world used to be black and white. There was a right answer and a wrong answer. There was a right way to do things and a wrong way. There was one right way to believe and everything–and everyone–else was wrong.

It was an easy and a comfortable way to live.

I didn’t have to struggle with ambiguity. I could make quick and easy judgments…based on what I knew was right.

But then I began to get acquainted with people who believed differently from me–but who lived in what I knew was the right way.

I met people from different countries and discovered that even though we differed on politics and sometimes religion, we had a lot in common.

I became friends with people whose loved differently than I did…who loved people of the same sex. And I met others whose seemingly obvious birth gender didn’t match with their internal gender.

I began to listen to scientists who caused me to question some of my earlier simplistic beliefs.

And my world changed colors.

blue green and red abstract illustration

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

It was no longer just two colors. It began to be filled with bright, beautiful colors–colors of the rainbow.

Sometimes I miss my easy and comfortable way of living–but then I look around and realize that all the colors make my life exciting and beautiful…just as I believe God created life to be.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones…”

How many of us remember the rest of that rhyme?

“But words will never hurt me.”

That is so not true. Broken bones will generally mend. But hearts and souls broken by words…maybe, but far too often, the words have broken someone so deeply that mending is not possible.

In my previous post, I said that under the skin we are the same. I had a friend take a little bit of an issue with what he thought I was saying–that we should find common ground with the oppressor, no matter what.

No, that’s not what I meant.

Yes, under the skin we are the same. However, we express our humanity in different ways–some healthy and some extremely unhealthy, both for ourselves and those we are around.

And unfortunately there are extremely unhealthy expressions being shared today. I have also indicated that I don’t very often make “political” statements on this blog…but I recently read quotes by Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu that are making me reconsider:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. – Elie Wiesel

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  – Desmond Tutu.

There are far too many vulnerable people whose lives are in danger…physically and emotionally. And instead of challenging us to be our better selves, to find ways of being part of a solution, the current administration in the United States instead panders to what is ugly in us.

People who are seeking a place of safety…who want nothing more than a better life for their children…are being called thugs, criminals, rapists. People in this country without legal documents are called “illegals”–as though a human being can somehow be inherently illegal.

Members of the LGBTQ communities are being called names I thought we had put aside years ago. They are often fearful for their lives, and their marriages are being dismissed as “parody” marriages. The lack of support for young people struggling with their sexuality and forced conversion therapy for those who identify as LGBTQ has led to an epidemic of homelessness and suicide.

Members of religions other than Christianity are being demonized for the actions of a few extremists–while Christian extremists are excused with the words, “Well, that’s not really Christianity.” And yet some of the worst mass shootings in this country have been caused by people who identify as “Christian” and who believe that their white skin makes them somehow “better” than others. And we who are followers of Jesus have far too long been unwilling to see anything positive in any religion other than our own version of Christianity.

So yes…words do matter. And when we ignore those words, when we refuse to speak out in support of the vulnerable because we want to remain neutral or not rock the boat, then we become part of the problem.

And I do not want to be part of the oppression. I want to be part of a conversation in which we can learn from each other…in which we can figure out what the problems are and how to find solutions.

Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.

If I were one of “the tired, the poor…”

I hear a lot of statements to the effect that people who want to emigrate to the US should do it legally…that there is no excuse for illegal entry. In a perfect world, I agree. But unfortunately, our world is not perfect.

Compared to many in the world, I live a life of privilege. I have had the privilege of a good education and been able to work at jobs that pay decently. I have a home, clothing, enough for my family to eat (and to spare), access to medical care…and I do not spend my days worrying about my children or grandchildren being targeted by gangs as drug runners or sex slaves—or dying from malnutrition. I do not worry about my home being shot up or about bombs going off in my street. I can drive around my town safely without worrying about IEDs or car bombs or random shootings (mostly, anyway).

I cannot imagine living in a place where that is not true.

I honestly do not know what I would do if I lived in a place with the opposite of those conditions. If it were just me, that would be one thing. But if there were any other option that I could see for my children and grandchildren, I think I would take it—legal or otherwise.

And for many of the world’s people, there is not a legal option. Either because of lack of education, lack of money, lack of access to government offices—or the corruption of those offices… If all I had was my feet—and the hope that there must be a better world somewhere—I think I would gather up what I could and start walking.

Yes, I think our immigration system needs to be overhauled. Yes, I think we need to do what we can to help stabilize governments where many of these folks are coming from.

But at the same time, I would hope that we would have some empathy for those who are trying to find safety and a better future for their children and grandchildren—and I would hope that we would read again…and be willing to live out…the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.