Is this how the dream dies?

Over 200 years ago, a nation formed with a new dream–where government was going to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It was going to be a government where all people had opportunity to succeed…where dreams could come true.

Did that ever completely happen? No…but the dream was always there, always providing the foundation.

There were problems. There were times when some people were considered “less than” others…times when some who looked different or who spoke other languages were not welcomed….

But people kept trying. They kept hoping…kept working…and challenged each other to be better than they had been.

They were given the gift of a statue with part of a poem inscribed on it–a statue and hope that encapsulated the dreams of both the people who were part of that experiment and others who wanted to be part of it.

While there were sometimes leaders who pandered to the worst instincts of people, most of them encouraged the people to try to live up to the dream. They also realized that for the dream to truly be a reality, they needed to take care of their land…to try to make sure that everyone could stay healthy.

And in doing all this, they began to be a symbol to other countries of what could be. They worked together with other leaders to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

They didn’t always succeed. But they kept trying.

Until now.

And now I’m afraid that dream…that great experiment…is dying.

It has been dying for some time; many of us just weren’t aware of how sick it was. But it’s clear now.

This great experiment said that there needs to be checks and balances between the three parts of government–but that has failed.

We have a leader who has signaled that he believes he can do anything he wants–and nobody in government has the right to stop him. We have a leader who has ignored people with expertise in a variety of fields in favor of “yes” men and women. We have a leader who has cozied up to dictators while tearing apart our relationships with those who have been our allies. We have a leader who has openly mocked people with disabilities…who has boasted of sexual assault…who has supported individuals and policies that have further marginalized and put in danger those who are already marginalized…who has made it acceptable to be racist and xenophobic. We have a leader who lies so frequently that it has become impossible to tell when (if) he is telling the truth. We have a leader who has claimed to be a Christian but whose words, actions, and policies are in direct opposition to what Jesus asked of his followers.

We have an administration where those who are holding various leadership positions are openly hostile to the responsibilities of those Cabinet positions…and/or have actively fought against them in the past. We have an administration that has given tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting programs that provide safety nets to the less fortunate. We have an administration that has rolled back protections for the environment that have made it safer for individuals…and that is opening up protected lands to activities that will destroy them for short-term interests.

Many of us assumed that this dream–this experiment–could not be destroyed…that it might change, but that it would last. And so we are also to blame for what is happening because of our complacency.

Can this dream be revived? I hope so…for the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But it’s going to take all of us–and we have to be willing to work together.

Do we ever really know someone?

Last Sunday morning our congregation held a memorial service for one of our congregational “characters” who died last Christmas Eve.

She was known as “the can lady” because every time she came to the congregation, she hunched over her cart which was filled with cans to donate to our fundraiser.

She was deaf…gruff…cantankerous…stubborn (she refused to let anyone give her a ride anywhere and walked all over town in all kinds of weather, hunched over her cart)…but she considered our congregation her home church.

We didn’t know much about her. We knew she was a hoarder because we helped move her after she had been evicted. We knew she had been homeless. We knew that when she married a few years ago, it was in many ways a marriage of convenience for both her and her husband–but that it also brought joy to her. We didn’t know if she had any other family. We knew that our congregation meant something to her and that she wanted to give in return. We knew that we missed her when she had to move into the nursing home.

At the service, there were folks who shared from the nursing home she had had to move into as well as the community center she had gone to as often as she could…and we found out more about her because each group knew something a little bit different about her.

We learned where she had been born…where she moved with her family…why she ended up in our part of the country. We discovered she had gone through four years of college (although we don’t know where or what she studied for sure). We learned she had worked at one point as a CNA–and that she had gone on disability about 35 years ago with extremely severe scoliosis. She had had back surgery for something else and it never took, so she was living with constant pain. We learned that because of her evictions, she was not eligible for subsidized housing, so she had to pay rent from her disability income. Her income was only about $1200 a month and rent and utilities left her only about $350 to live on. One month she lost even that, and so then she carried it in quarters–figuring no one would steal that bag of quarters because it was too heavy! But that also explained why she wanted so much of the extra food we were able to provide to those who needed help, courtesy of a local grocery.

But we also learned that when you were able to connect with her–which took time and perseverance–you were a friend forever. We learned that there were things that really tickled her…and that occasionally she would just let go and laugh in joy. We learned that she loved going to devotions and Bible study…

And so by the time the service ended, we realized how much she had touched others…and how much we had been touched. We learned something important as well…we never really completely know someone else…and grace is important!

 

“Miracle at Midnight”

We watched “Miracle at Midnight” on Disney+ last night…and I had trouble sleeping.

Told basically through the eyes of one family, it’s the story of the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 after plans were made for mass arrests and deportations beginning at midnight on the start of Rosh Hashana. It’s an incredible story–and resulted in the survival of 99% of the Danish Jews.

It’s a Disney movie…so while there is violence that is an integral part of the story, the violence was not what kept me awake.

No, what kept my mind stirred up were questions of how I would have reacted. Would I have had the courage this family (and the many other families) did? To have risked the lives of my loved ones in order to shelter someone I didn’t know?

I hope so.

In some cases they were friends…neighbors…business associates…teachers. But in many cases, they were strangers–taken in because that was the right thing to do.

They weren’t demonized as faceless “others.” It didn’t matter that they believed or worshiped differently. They were part of the community.

Those who took the Jews in and hid them until they could be moved to safety did so because they believed in living out their faith. They took to heart the words in their sacred scriptures (Matthew 25:35-36):

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.

Could I have done the same? Can I?

 

What are your goals in 2020?

I know this is the time of year when many of us decide on New Year’s resolutions. We have the best of intentions…but it doesn’t seem to take too long before we get behind…or life intervenes…or we decide they were just too difficult…or we’re too tired…or (whatever you want to add here)…and they fall by the wayside.

I think that this year, instead of resolutions, I’m setting goals. They seem to be more doable…more measurable…because they are more short-term and can then be revisited, revised, and renewed.

It’s still kind of scary to put them out here, because then I know I have to focus on them…because there are friends who will keep me accountable for them.

So what are my goals for the first three months of 2020?

  1. I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables and fruits and I will drink at least 16 ounces of water each day.
  2. I will tidy up the house before going to bed.
  3. I will take 30 minutes each day of intentional quiet time for meditation / journaling / spiritual focus time.
  4. I will speak out regularly (whether through letter writing, posting, or blogging) on behalf of those who are being marginalized by this administration.
  5. I will enter financial expenditures on a weekly basis.
  6. My faith tradition has a prayer that I will pray each day, listening for where it leads me: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

What are your goals?

Thanks – giving

Many of us in the United States will gather with friends and family this weekend to celebrate and give thanks. There is much good in doing that.

But I also wonder…

What about those who do not have friends and family to celebrate with? They might be estranged for a number of reasons…

What about those who cannot be home because they are working…as first responders… as military personnel who are trying to keep people and countries safe…as medical (and other) personnel who are working to bring healing to people in hospitals…?

What about those who are mourning the death of a loved one?

Or those who wonder where their next meal will come from?

What about those who still suffer from the effects of the racism and colonization that underlaid the first “Thanksgiving” celebration on this continent? This is not a weekend of celebration for many of them.

We do need to find times and ways to give thanks…to count blessings…to rejoice in friends and family (whether that is family of origin or family of choice).

But we also need to be sensitive to those for whom this weekend is a difficult time.

So while I will give thanks this weekend, I will also acknowledge that there is much work to do to bring reconciliation and healing so that all may find a way and time to give thanks.

They’re not just pieces of material…

Warning: The pictures included with this post are graphic and disturbing.

Several times recently I’ve seen posts saying that individuals who post pictures with the Confederate or Nazi flags aren’t necessarily racist. Sometimes the rationale has been that it’s “just a hick thing” or that those flags are just pieces of material…so why are people getting so bent out of shape?

Well, they’re not just pieces of material.

They represent very real ideologies that see a specific group of people as “subhuman” or “less than.” They are stark reminders of genocide…not centuries ago, but recent.

There are people alive today whose grandparents were slaves. There are people alive today who remember lynchings (lynchings were still taking place in 1981!). These are not abstract events; they are part of families’ histories…and the Confederate flag reminds them of this:

 

See the source image

A slave showing the scars of beatings on his back

Crowd Surrounds the Smoking Corpse of a Lynching Victim : Nachrichtenfoto

Jesse Washington, 17 years old, burned alive while an enthusiastic crowd looked on

Laura Nelson, lynched after being raped by numerous men, her body (along with her 14-year-old son’s) hung from a bridge and a postcard made of her lynching

There are people alive today who survived Nazi concentration camps–and who lost most (if not all) of their families in the camps. And the Nazi flag reminds us of this:

Boy In The Warsaw Ghetto

Nazi soldiers capturing Jews in the Warsaw ghetto

Mass Grave

A mass grave at Bergen-Belsen

Four emaciated survivors sit outside in the newly liberated Ebensee concentration camp.

The original Signal Corps caption reads, 
"EBENSEE CONCENTRATION CAMP.
In the Austrian Alps at Ebensee, Austria, units of the 80th Div, of the Third U...  found one of the largest and most brutal German concentration camps shortly bef...  of the war in Europe.  The camp contained about 60,000 prisoners of 25 different ... all in various stages of starvation.   The camp reputedly was used for scientifi... on the prisoners, who were used as live guinea pigs.  Conditions for the living ... bably brutal and filthy.  The men were forced to sleep four to a narrow bunk in ... barracs.  They died at the rate of 2000 a week, and their bodies were disposed o... ready for the crematory.  The Germans had fled before they had time to burn them.  ... living are being given care and nourishing food.  When they are strong enough to ... they will be returned to their homes.
These photos were taken May 7 and 8, 1945.

PNA                                                            EA 66316
THIS PHOTO SHOWS: These living skeletons are young boys.  
U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETO-HQ-45-46147
SERVICED BY LONDON OWI (INNER FULL)
CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR.

Concentration camp survivors

Whether you like it or not, when you fly either of these flags (or give the Nazi salute), you are giving tacit support to those ideologies. They cannot be separated from those flags.

And so they are not just pieces of material. Your use of them and your reaction to them sends a significant message about who you are and what you believe.

What are you thankful for?

In the United States, we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, the story we grew up on–the story of the shared feast between the Native Americans and the English colonists–has turned out to not be accurate. (Here’s a Native American perspective…one of several I found.)

However, the concept of expressing thankfulness and gratefulness is still a valid one–especially today.

So…what are you thankful for?

I’m thankful for family–biological family, but also “chosen” family…those who have become close through a variety of connections.

I’m thankful for the experiences I have had of sharing with individuals in and from different cultures and religious traditions. They have caused me to reflect on the wonderful diversity in our world–and how much that diversity has enriched us. They have also reminded me of how much we don’t know!

I’m thankful for books! They provide magic carpets to places I could not otherwise visit. They help me learn new information. They provide escape when I need it…and challenge when I am ready for it.

I’m thankful for music. It feeds my soul…and sometimes allows me to pray when I do not have the words to do so.

I’m thankful for pets who give unconditional love.

I’m thankful for those I agree with…and those I don’t. Those who support and affirm me help give me confidence–and those I disagree with challenge me to really think about what I believe and help me articulate it more clearly. They even sometimes cause me to change my mind or…at the least…look for those places where we can find common ground.

I am thankful to have a home to live in and enough food to eat. I realize how blessed I am to not have to worry daily whether I will have enough…or whether I (or family members) will be victims of violence.

I am thankful for those who have walked with me on my spiritual journey. Some have been members of my own faith tradition…others have shared from their perspectives. I have learned much from each of them–including how difficult it is for us finite human beings to understand the Divine Infinity. And I have been thankful for those who have walked with me through the dark nights of the soul, offering me care and hope, even when I didn’t see it.

Most of all I’m thankful for life, even with its various health problems and challenges. Each day brings new hope…new opportunities…new lessons…new visions.

What are you thankful for this year?