Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

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Seeing people, not colors

It’s 2018…and in too many ways, too many of us are still living back in 1868…shortly after the Civil War, when many white people saw free blacks as people to fear…as people who needed to be “kept in their place”…as people who did not have the ability, intelligence or education to do or be anything other than servants to whites.

And why am I saying this?

Because just this last week, a black security guard stopped an armed shooter at a nightclub and held him until police were able to come–and then was himself shot and killed by the police, even though bystanders were calling out that he was security.

Because the election in Georgia was finally decided in favor of a white candidate, even though there have been serious questions raised about voter suppression (including loss of polling places that required people of color to travel significant distances to try to vote…in areas where public transportation is minimal)…and the man running for governor was also the same man responsible for overseeing the election.

Because Georgia’s First Lady made a comment widely seen as a racist reference towards Stacey Abrams, a black woman who was running for governor, saying that “I really want a family in the mansion to take good care of it.” Really? Does anyone really believe she would have made that comment if Abrams was a white unmarried woman running for governor?

Because last Wednesday a former Air Force veteran who was working as a supervisor for a court-ordered visitation between a parent and child–and who was sitting quietly in a yogurt shop while the parent and child were visiting–made workers uncomfortable enough that they called the police…who asked the veteran to move on. He did, in order to keep the situation from escalating. And did I mention that he was black? and the workers who called were white?

Because a county commissioner in Kansas, in response to a presentation by a black woman in a county meeting, said that he was rejecting the proposal, but it wasn’t anything personal towards her, just that he was a member of “the master race.”

I thought we were long past this. I thought we were past just seeing color.

I thought–and hoped–that yes, we would see and acknowledge color, but only as one aspect of an individual…that we would see them as people with gifts and skills that benefit everyone.

And yet…

Obviously the Civil Rights movement is not finished. And just as obviously, those of us who have the privilege of white skin and who do not fear for our lives or who are not insulted just because of who we are have a responsibility to say “Enough is enough.”

Living while white

The phrase “white privilege” has been around for a number of years to try to explain the advantages that those of us who look Caucasian have in our every-day life. Unfortunately it now carries negative connotations and has seemingly lost its power to try to help bring understanding.

I am a white, and even though sometimes I have had unwanted attention, it has not been a constant part of my life.

I am able to go grocery shopping…play with my kids (and grandkids)…drive…walk down the street…talk on the phone with a friend…and a myriad of other daily activities without worrying that someone is going to think that what I am doing is suspicious and call the authorities on me.

That is not true of many of those whose skin is a different color than mine.

Yes, I recognize that sometimes individuals act (and react) in ways that may escalate a situation–but there are far too many times when someone who is simply “living while black” finds themselves having to answer to the police because someone finds them “suspicious” or “threatening.” And unfortunately, as we’ve also seen far too often, sometimes those interactions turn deadly and an innocent individual ends up dead.

Here are a number of stories from people who have had the police called on them while they were simply doing the same every-day activities that I am able to do without fear.

I am not necessarily asking you to agree with everything…but I would ask you to read with an open mind. Until we are willing to acknowledge the differences in the way individuals are treated because of differences in skin color (or any of the other types of diversity in this wonderful human race), we will not be able to begin resolving the challenges we face.

RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

How long?

Another mass shooting….

Another round of thoughts and prayers….

Another series of “conversations” about whether or not changes in gun laws would have saved lives….

Another insistence that a “good guy” with a gun could have stopped the shooting…

Another time of red flags missed…

But people are still dead.

What should have been a time of peaceful worship…of celebration of the naming of a child…is destroyed in a rain of bullets and hate.

There will be more vigils….

And we will say “never again”….

But deep in our hearts we know it will happen again…because we are too in love with our guns to make any changes. Too in love with our ideas of “freedom” to work together to make our schools and places of worship safe for everyone. Too enamored with our freedom of speech to acknowledge that words of hatred and division have an impact.

How long?

And how many more will have to die?

How long…?

 

Do not erase…

For some reason, we humans seem to want to make the world in our image. We want it to be ordered and fixed the way we want it to be–and we seem to be willing to do almost anything to make it that way.

But science shows us that there is an infinite variety and diversity.

And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, our sacred book of scripture talks about the process of creation–that God created this wonderful diversity, including the diversity of human beings who are made in God’s image.

We don’t understand the reasons for all that diversity in creation…and maybe there isn’t any real reason. Maybe God just enjoys creating that variety!

If that is the case, then why do we keep thinking that we need to erase everything and everyone that doesn’t fit into our nice neat boxes? Why can’t we just delight in the varieties in our wonderful world?

The current administration is considering a policy that would effectively erase the identity of transgender individuals:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” reads the memo, according to the Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

But that ignores what we have been learning about the science of gender identity and sexual orientation…and insists that doctors ignore what is in the best interests of their patients simply because a government policy (created by individuals who have had a habit of ignoring scientific evidence that they don’t like) decrees that something doesn’t exist.

Transgender people do exist. They are our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sometimes parents, friends…. They have the same hopes, desires, dreams, fears as the rest of us–and they do not deserve for their identity to be erased by the government.

Where is our compassion?

I just can’t be silent.

I don’t care where you stand on the allegations made by Dr. Ford towards Judge Kavanaugh…whether you believe her or him…or whether you aren’t sure who to believe.

But if you listened to her testimony, it’s obvious that something traumatic happened to her so many years ago–something that is seared into her memory. And she is not alone.

Many, many people have shared stories since her testimony–stories that in many cases have never been shared with anyone else. Some of these stories go back even more decades than Dr. Ford’s testimony.

And in each of these cases, the individuals have re-lived some of that original trauma. Memories, pain, anguish have been triggered for these folks as well as for some who have chosen–for a variety of valid reasons–not to share the details of their own experiences.

And what has happened?

They have been disbelieved…questioned…and, even worse, laughed at and mocked by the president. Not just him, but those who were at the “rally” where he mocked her cheered and joined in the laughter. WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?

How many of those who were cheering and laughing have family members who have experienced sexual assault? Would they still be laughing and cheering if it were their daughter/mother/sister/grandmother/aunt who was being mocked?

And what about the children who were there? What did they learn? That it’s okay to laugh at sexual assault? That it’s a joke? That women’s voices don’t count? That women can’t be believed at all, but men can always be believed?

I’m just sick today. I cannot believe the level of cruelty that has been unleashed in our country.

And so I ask again, WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?