When is the dawn?

There’s a rabbinical story that I have always liked. There are several versions, but it goes something like this:

A rabbi was talking with his students. He asked them this question: “How can we know when it is dawn–the time at which the night ends and the day begins?”

The students were puzzled. One asked, “Is it when you can look from a distance and tell whether it’s your house or your neighbor’s?”

“No,” the rabbi answered.

“Is it when you can tell your animal in the field from your neighbor’s?”

“No,” answered the rabbi again.

“Is it when you can see a flower in the garden and distinguish its color?”

The rabbi was frustrated. “Why do you think only in terms of separations? The dawn has come when you can look into the face of another human being and recognize that they are your sister or your brother. Until then, it is still night.”

That story seems particularly appropriate in light of the last couple of weeks…when we seem to have been unable or unwilling to see the humanity of those we disagree with.

For some right now, it seems as though we are in night, a night that feels as though it will never end.

And yet…

There’s another saying as well that seems appropriate. It first seems to have appeared in 1650 and has been used in various ways, including in a recent movie about England in World War II: “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.”

And that’s what gives me hope.

In what appears to be a very dark time, I have hope that the dawn is not far away…that there are those who can help us see it coming as they help us see the sister and brother in “the other.”

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RIP John McCain

A great man died yesterday. Yes, a great man…and I do not say that lightly.

I did not always agree with John McCain, but I respected him. I felt that he was a man of integrity who made his decisions based on his principles. Did I think they were always the right ones? No. Did I think he was perfect and never made mistakes? No.

But when he made mistakes, he acknowledged them. He apologized.

And he worked to find common ground, even with those he disagreed with.

When he was a POW in Vietnam, he had the opportunity to be released early, but he refused to take it, because he knew it would be used as a propaganda tool to demoralize those he was imprisoned with. He paid for it–dearly.

When he was running against Barak Obama, he had the opportunity to attack him in response to a question he was asked. Instead, he did something out of the ordinary in a political fight–he acknowledged that they had major disagreements, but defended Obama and his integrity, calling him “a decent person and a family man.”

He was not always liked, because he chose his positions based on what he believed was right, not simply on party politics.

We will miss him. Not because he did everything we wanted him to, but because he challenged us to be the best we can be. He called us to work to find common ground rather than division. I’m reminded of a quote by Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird that could be McCain’s epitaph: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Thank you for your service, Senator. Rest in peace.

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.

 

 

“Becoming Nicole”

It’s been quite a while since I reviewed a book on this blog. That’s intentional. I have a big list of books (6-1/2 years worth) that I found worth reading on my site here.

I read so much that I literally ran out of time and energy trying to decide which books to suggest. So why am I suggesting this one?

Over the last several years I’ve become involved with members of the LGBTQ+ community in various ways. I’ve become good friends with some transgender individuals and have come to at least a minimal understanding of what they have gone through in helping their brains and bodies to agree.

But Becoming Nicole is one of the best books I’ve read (as a straight/cis person) to help understand what the journey is like for the whole family.

From the time she was at least 2 years old, Nicole knew that she was different from her identical twin brother. She couldn’t put words to the differences, but she knew they were there. Her parents and brother were supportive of her in her journey, but they also followed different paths. Her mother accepted her from the beginning and, although there wasn’t much information available to her at that time, she searched out what she could find and became a strong advocate for her daughter. Although her father loved and supported her, it took him longer to understand–but once he did, he also became a strong spokesperson for her. Her brother? He somehow simply knew from early on that he had a sister instead of a brother.

Each major section of this book opens with an explanation of the science behind sexual identity and gender identity…what scientists are coming to understand about how they develop and how they may not match. Sometimes trying to read that scientific information is challenging, but this book presents that material in language that a non-scientist can understand without a dictionary at hand!

If you have questions about what it means to be transgender…if you are curious about the journey of the entire family…if you would simply like to know more, then I would strongly suggest Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. It’s not a “preachy” book, simply the story of a family who deeply love and care for their children and the challenges they faced as they helped them to be true to themselves.

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?

Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.