How do we see?

That question–how do we see?–could be answered in a variety of ways. But it was triggered by a short incident in a book I read…a video I saw…and a picture I saw.

First…in a book titled Wounds Are Where Light Enters, Walter Wangerin, Jr., the author, tells of an incident that involved his adopted African-American son when he was a small child. He was good friends with a neighbor girl, but one day the girl’s mother said that they couldn’t play together any more. Wangerin and his wife thought it was because their son played rougher than his friend did–but that wasn’t the case. It was because he was black. Wangerin, the family’s pastor, went to visit and talk to the mother, who greeted him warmly and then began commiserating about how difficult life was for black children, especially boys…and that she wasn’t surprised they turned to alcohol and crime. Wangerin was nonplussed and asked if she didn’t see that her attitude was one of the things that made it so difficult for them. Why had she cut him off? Her response was simple. “No…black and white don’t marry.”

She didn’t see a little boy who only wanted to play with his friend. She didn’t see a child…she saw color.

Second…a video came up on my Facebook newsfeed about a 66-year-old man who was colorblind. He was given the gift of Enchroma glasses, which allowed him to see color for the first time in his life. It was incredible to watch him see the world in a new way…overwhelming but absolutely joyful.

Image may contain: one or more peopleAnd then third…a picture I saw tonight. I have no words to describe the heartbreak I felt when I saw the picture this little girl who lives in an orphanage drew…a picture of her mother, and then she took off her shoes, and curled up on her mother’s chest.

How do we see? What do we see?

Do we only see what’s on the outside? Or are we willing to look beyond the obvious? to see the inside?

We can put “force fields” around ourselves so that we protect ourselves…because to see the inside requires us to be vulnerable, and that can be frightening. It calls us to be advocates for change…

My faith tradition talks about enduring principles, and some of them call me to see the world differently:

  • Worth of all people
  • Pursuit of peace
  • Unity in diversity
  • Blessings of community

So, how do we see? What do we see?

Are we willing to open our eyes…to see the world in new ways? I hope so.

 

 

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What are we afraid of?

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Why?

Because fear feeds on itself. Once we start being afraid, then we constantly find things to be afraid of…and it begins a vicious circle. We become afraid and so we insulate ourselves from those things that we fear–and then we become afraid that we haven’t protected ourselves well enough and so we pull within ourselves even more…and more…and more.

Eventually we find ourselves living in such a little world that there is no room for anything but fear. We find ourselves like Rapunzel, locked into a tower away from anything and anybody that could rescue us…no door to open…and the sad thing is that we have done it to ourselves.

What are we so afraid of?

  • The “other?” Someone who is different from us in some way (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, political, gender identity…)?
  • Anything that challenges our long-held beliefs?
  • The future?
  • Being alone?
  • Change?

So how do we get over being afraid? It’s not easy.

It’s so much simpler, at least in the short-term, to hold on to our fears. They protect us…or at least we think they do, until they imprison us.

We have to face the fears…name them. Until we do, they will continue to hide in dark corners, ready to jump out at any unexpected moment.

We have to decide whether we are going to open the door and let hope come in…let faith begin to develop. We have to begin to understand that fear often begins inside us. Yes, there are some valid reasons to be careful and cautious in our lives–but not for every aspect of living.

Pulling the weeds of fear is difficult. It’s challenging. It requires us to be willing to listen to others…to even see ourselves in them. It requires us to be vulnerable, to be willing to accept pain.

But in the long run, it’s the only way to live. When we lock ourselves in the tower of fear, we’re not living. We may be surviving, but that’s it.

When we live, we see colors…we love diversity…we choose to walk with others–perhaps to give them company, but in so doing, we find we are no longer alone.

So what will we choose? Fear? Or opening the door to love and to hope…to life?

Making us great…

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “making America great again”…along with suggestions from some about how to do that. Many of those suggestions seem to look back to some undefined time when the world basically seemed to revolve around whoever is speaking. I’ve often heard it said that that “time” was when we were children–when we were not aware of the complexity of the challenges that surrounded us…

I’d like to suggest that rather than worrying about making America great (again), we might be better served by doing what we can to make humanity great. We’ve never really succeeded at that–and I think it’s because we’ve been too focused on (1) our own personal need / desire to be seen as “great” and (2) our need / desire to separate the world into “us” versus “them.”

So what would it take to make us (meaning humanity) great? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some suggestions and ideas (not presented in any particular order).

  1. Seek to understand. That comes from Stephen Covey. There’s more to the quote–“seek to understand before being seeking to be understood.” How do we do that? By listening…really listening. We were given two ears and one mouth for a purpose–and if we listened twice as much as we talk, we might make some good progress toward finding common ground. We all make our decisions based on our experiences, and until we try to understand someone else’s life experiences, we won’t be able to understand why they make the decisions they do.
  2. Recognize that we are stewards of the earth. We all live on this planet…we all depend on this ecosystem for our very existence. If the ecosystem fails, we will die. It’s that simple. We’ve already seen some species die out either because we hunted them to extinction or because they were unable to adapt to a changing climate. We need to take care of the earth, not just use it to death.
  3. Delight in the diversity of creation–animal, plant, and human. We seem to find it fairly easy to do that with animal and plant, but not so easily with human. We’re not all the same…we never will be. But there is so much to learn from each other, so much to enjoy when we are open.
  4. Be willing to understand the complexity of our human bodies. We used to think our bodies were simple, but they’re not. Our brains and bodies are complex…when they work together, things are good. But when they don’t agree, life gets really complicated! Our bodies don’t always reflect our gender identity or our sexual orientation…there is so much more to learn.
  5. Stop saying that it has to be either faith or science. They can complement each other. Science helps us understand the “how”; faith helps us understand the “why.”

Obviously there are a lot more ideas that could be added to this list, but if we make it too long, it would be overwhelming. And obviously I’m not giving a lot of specifics as to how to implement these ideas, because each of us can implement them in our own unique ways.

But maybe…just maybe…we can make humanity great. We have to…or we may find ourselves going the same way as the dodo bird.

 

To rescue each other…

Twelve boys and their coach found themselves trapped in a cave in a life-threatening situation. The world noticed. People prayed for them…people began working together to figure out ways to help them survive, to help them find a road to safety. And the world rejoiced when they were rescued–and a major disaster averted.

am glad that they were rescued.

But I also wonder…

There are many thousands of children (and families) who find themselves trapped in life-threatening situations. But the world doesn’t seem to notice…or to pray for them…or to be willing to work together to figure out ways to help them survive, to find a road to safety.

Why the difference?

Is it because there were only thirteen in the first situation? and it is easier to see that smaller number as individuals?

Is it because their difficulty didn’t require us to make changes in our own lives? that we weren’t going to have to find a place for them in our own neighborhoods?

Why?

What if we were the ones in a life-threatening situation? Wouldn’t we want someone to notice? to pray? to find ways to work together to help us survive and find a road to safety?

What if we saw each other truly as brothers and sisters in need?

This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

We need to talk…

In my family, the words “We need to talk…” tend to signal something serious–some kind of issue that needs to be dealt with…a clearing of the air. That’s not always true, but I have to admit that when I hear (or say) those words, my gut clenches a bit and I begin to wonder “Uh-oh…now what?”

So let me say them to you. “We need to talk…” I hope your gut doesn’t clench, but there are some issues we need to deal with…some air that needs to be cleared.

I am alarmed at much of the rhetoric I am seeing and hearing. We’re not talking with each other…we’re talking past each other–and we’re so focused on making sure that we get our say in, that our responses are well-crafted, that we’re not listening. That alarms me for our future–and for what our kids are learning from us.

I’m not saying that we can’t disagree. We can…and I think we must, because we need to hear a diversity of viewpoints. After all, we come from a variety of backgrounds…we’ve had very diverse experiences as we’ve grown up and as we’ve interacted with others. So why shouldn’t our viewpoints be different?

But somehow we need to be able to see that diversity as a strength. We have been blessed through the years with foods and words from different cultures…with stories and spiritual practices from different faith traditions…with knowledge that has been saved because past cultures thought it important.

Please hear what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that we cannot / should not stand against injustice, division, hate. I believe we must. But we must do that in ways that are not hateful themselves. Is that difficult? You bet! But I believe that we have examples that we can follow that show it’s possible.

In the movie Gandhi, there’s a scene that makes me shudder when I think of it. Gandhi was leading a protest against the policy of forcing India to buy salt at high prices from England…he mobilized literally hundreds of people in a march to the sea to make salt–where they were met by English soldiers. They marched four abreast towards the sea…were clubbed down and carried away by those waiting to help…and the next group stepped forward. There seemed to be no end to the people who were willing to take a non-violent stand against injustice–and the policy was changed.

I also look at the pictures from the Civil Rights movement–when individuals marched peacefully in protest, meeting water cannons, snarling dogs, and words of hate. Eventually things changed–not as much as we would have hoped, but people began to think.

I hear people talking about the possibility (probability?) of a “soft” civil war–a war of words. Words are important–and the way we use them can either help lead us to finding ways of working together or they can lead to violence.

We can disagree on ways to reach goals…we can even at times disagree on what those goals should be. But what we shouldn’t disagree on is the need to see “the other” as human, as brother and sister…and the need to use our environment wisely so that all living things (human and otherwise) can do more than just survive but can have abundant life.

We need to talk…

Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

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!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

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.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.