Dissent and criticism

Dissent and criticism of leaders and the status quo is not un-American. In fact, one could make a case for the fact that they are very American values, since the United States was forged out of dissent and criticism. We were birthed in dissent and criticism of the status quo of being an English colony…and it was not an easy birth. Harsh words were thrown at those who did not agree with a particular viewpoint…and some were literally forced from their homes because they did not agree with actions that were being taken.

We tend to forget that. Our history in some ways has whitewashed the whole process, making it seem inevitable. But it wasn’t. And the founding fathers of the United States were not always nice or polite with each other. In fact, if you read some of the letters and newspapers, they were downright brutal!

And dissent and criticism of the status quo have been a significant part of who we are ever since. Opposition to slavery…those who fought for religious freedom…individuals who fought against the treatment of Native Americans…those who supported the rights of individuals to come to the United States to find freedom and new hope…pacifists…women who fought for the right to vote (and to control their own bodies)… The list could go on and on.

Dissent and criticism of leaders and the status quo are woven into the very fabric of who we are.

And for those who claim to be inheritors and followers of the Judeo-Christian heritage, dissent and criticism are also part of that heritage. The Hebrew scriptures are full of sermons and challenges from prophets who challenged the status quo…who called both the leadership and individuals to be better than they were…to live up to what they said they believed.

Jesus himself challenged the status quo. We have often tended to forget just how radical his teachings and actions were. He challenged not only the leadership of Rome but also the religious (and political) leaders of his own people. He didn’t hold back either:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! (Matthew 23:23-24)

Scribes knew the law and could draw up legal documents. Pharisees were religious leaders (and were also legal experts). Jesus didn’t seem to have much use for their focusing on the letter of the law while ignoring the things that mattered more.

So when we accuse critics of the status quo as somehow being un-American or un-Christian, we’re just plain wrong. We need to hear those voices that challenge us to be our better selves…to live up to what we claim to believe.

We can disagree with how to get there–but we need to be reminded that at one point in our history, people in other countries saw the United States as a place of hope…a place of new beginnings. We took pride in what Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883–and what is mounted on the Statue of Liberty. Those who dissent and offer criticism of what we have become do so because they want us to live up to these words of hope:

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!”

 

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!”

What is happening to my country?

Every morning for the past week I have awakened with this question…”What is happening to my country?!”

It has not been perfect, and yes, there have been issues that I believe need to be corrected. But suddenly I feel like I’ve been transported to another, extremely unfamiliar place–one that has the same language, places, forms of government that I have come to know, but that somehow is off kilter.

And I am just sick.

I spImage result for coventry cathedral crossent some of my younger years in a country that had been devastated by the second world war. One of the places we visited–and that had a powerful impact on me–was Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful building that had been bombed out. But at the front of the ruined building was an altar with a cross…and a prayer: “Father, forgive.”

Forgive our inhumanity to each other…our fear of “the other”…our desire for dominance…there were so many things to pray forgiveness for.

And as a world, we swore we would never let anything like that happen again.

But we did. In Bosnia-Herzegovina…Rwanda…Cambodia…

And again we said, we would never let it happen. We had learned our lessons.

But we haven’t…and I’m fearful that we’re taking the same road…again.

How did those countries get to that point? There are ten steps on the road to genocide. They’re not inevitable; the process can be stopped…but the further a society goes down the road, the more difficult it is. Here are the steps:

  1. Classification – separating people into “us and them” by various categories (ethnicity, race, religion)
  2. Symbolization – giving names or other symbols to the classifications
  3. Discrimination – using law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups
  4. Dehumanization – equating members of a specific group with animals, verman, insects, diseases…using hate language against the group
  5. Organization
  6. Polarization – driving the groups apart, again by using hate language
  7. Preparation – often done using euphemisms to talk about what is being done
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial

As I watch the news, I’m afraid we’re heading down that road…and I’m scared. Not so much for myself, but for friends…and for my children and grandchildren. What kind of world are we creating for them?

Memories…part 3

Once you open the door, it’s surprising what pops out!

I thought most of my childhood memories had come up with my last couple of posts. But…surprise! So…here goes.

I remember climbing on Stonehenge. (This was before it got so popular with visitors that for its protection it had to be fenced off.) As a child, the stones looked enormous…and magical and mystical.

I remember learning to knit in school…or at least, the teacher trying to teach us. I think it was Miss Bunny…and unfortunately the lessons didn’t really take. I finally learned to knit years later from my aunt.

I remember my mother hanging clothes to dry in our dining room (I think). That’s where the fire was, and since we didn’t have a dryer, in the cold weather that was the best place for heat.

And along with that, I remember freezing and roasting with the fireplace. In order to get warm all over, I had to keep turning. Otherwise the side facing the fire got super hot while the backside froze!

I remember the weekly doses of cod liver oil to make sure we were getting enough of whichever vitamin is found in it. I was so glad to discover I wasn’t going to have to continue that back in the States!

I remember having sinus issues–and my folks being told by the doctor that it would be better if I could spend the winter in France! That didn’t happen…we all just dealt with the colds and sinus “stuff.”

I remember one Christmas getting to hold a big turkey leg…unfortunately just for pictures to be sent back to grandparents! Once the picture was over, the turkey leg went back to the table to have the meat removed for everyone to share.

I remember when we got back to the States being on the train to come back to Independence. We had a sleeper, and we opened the curtains to watch the lights go by before we went to bed. When we arrived back, there was a large crowd to meet us–and I remember being surprised by all the noise and greetings.

I remember becoming aware that the way history is written (and taught) depends on who is doing it! When I left England, we had been studying the rebellion of the American colonies. When I started school in the States, we were studying the Revolutionary War…and the stories I heard about the events didn’t come close to what I had learned in England! I’ve always been grateful that my teacher was open to my sharing another perspective.

I remember struggling with some spelling…and there are still some words that I struggle with. I’m never sure whether it’s “judgment” or “judgement”…”grey” or “gray”…”acknowledgment” or “acknowledgement”… I’ve gotten over my struggle with “color” or “colour” but there are other cases in which both the English and American spelling look correct.

I realized that the countries really are two countries divided by the same language! Is it a “boot” of a car or a “trunk”? Is it a “cookie” or a “biscuit”? Is it the “hood” of a car or the “bonnet”? Are you going to the “chemist” or to the “pharmacy”? Are you going on “vacation” or “holiday” in a “caravan” or a “trailer”?

I remember being in high school before I knew that some close family friends were just that–friends, not relatives. We had always called them “Aunt” and “Uncle” as was the custom in England, and I just assumed that they really were.

And so it goes…

 

Memories…part 2

Memories are funny things. They can lie dormant for years, but when you awaken one, it’s as though you sent an electric shock down the line and the others burst back to life, demanding your attention.

In my last post, I talked about some of my memories from my childhood years in England. I had no sooner hit “Publish” than I began to think of other memories I could have (should have?) included. So…here are some more!

I remember sitting in the living room of Uncle John and Aunt Ann’s home (above their bakery), watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on their small black and white television. It was a big deal! And I still have some of my souvenirs from then–both purchased and also given to all of us kids at school.1985-franklin-and-freda-schofield-nuneaton-england

I remember another wonderful couple–Franklin and Freda Schofield. I honestly don’t remember too much about where we knew them…just that they were always a part of our experience in England.

I remember the gypsy caravans (trailers to my American friends)…their colorful-ness as well as the fear that was far too common of their otherness.

I remember the tinker who would come around in his caravan, offering various pieces for sale–as well as offering to mend broken pieces and sharpen knives.

I remember my piano lessons with Mrs. Mee–and her frustration when I went to one of them having completely sight-read through a new book of pieces before my first lesson! Along with those lessons, I remember the “competitions” (don’t think that’s the exact name–more like a national examination) that involved scales, sight-reading, pieces you had worked on, ear training… I’ve always been gra1955-aug-helen-pam-don-dv-and-john-lents-at-edinburgh-castle-in-scotlandteful for those emphases.

I remember falling in love with bagpipes on one of our trips to Scotland…and watching people toss the caber and the Highland dancing at a Highland Games competition.

I remember visiting castle ruins…and trying to imagine what life must have been like for the folks who lived there.

I remember discovering that there really is a high road and a low road around Loch Lomond.

I remember being glad that we came back to the States before I was old enough to take the national exams that would determine whether I went on to college-prep education or to vocational training. Later I heard too much talk of the pressure that placed on young people my parents knew.

I remember the first time my mother shocked people around her–but was forgiven because she was an American. She and the mother of my best friend had gone to some movie–perhaps a war movie–and when they came out, my mother commented on what a bloody movie it had been. She would have been much better off to have called it a gory movie instead!

I remember the traveling groups of kids who would sing Christmas carols at our door for a penny or two. And I remember when family friends of ours spent the night, Karen and I quietly sang from my bedroom, trying to see if we could convince our parents that there was someone at the door. (We did!)

I remember when we hung a wreath on our front door for Christmas…and when my mother went to market, she began receiving condolences and q1952-sep-pam-and-don-lents-bourton-on-wateruestions about who had died.

I remember visiting the model village in the Cotswolds…an entire village built to 1/9 scale. It was the perfect size for kids to enjoy!

I remember riding the double-decker bus. I loved riding the upper level…what a fun experience!

I remember my father helping me fly kites in Wicksteed Park–and me getting a rope burn as he was pulling the kite in, because I didn’t want to go home, so I was trying to hold onto the string.

I remember making tapes to send back to my grandparents in the States…and I remember my mother encouraging my brother as he was sharing some of his speech therapy. He was going through his words–and my mother was trying to get him to pronounce them…but she was using the American pronunciation for “tomato” (with a long “a”), and I knew that just wasn’t right. So I corrected it for her (with a short “a”).

1953-jun-don-and-pam-lents-blackpool

I remember visiting the beach at Blackpool. I had a small bucket and shovel–and dug holes in the sand. As we were walking, my brother fell in one of the holes the tide had dug, but fortunately Dad was right there to pull him out.

I remember my father leading campfire at a church camp in Enfield. There wasn’t any place for a fire, so the event was taking place inside the church building…and I remember sitting on the hard bench (and eventually falling asleep there) as he was leading the singing.

There will undoubtedly be more memories resurrected now that I have opened the door…and I will thoroughly enjoy revisiting the past.

Memories…

I recently had a friend ask about some of my memories of my time in England when my dad served as a minister there. I’m not sure exactly what kinds of memories he was hoping for…maybe not some of these, but since I was 5 when we moved to England and 8-1/2 when we came back, they’re not going to be adult memories!

I remember some of our ship crossing on the HMS Franconia and our return on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Part of the crossing was stormy…and I remember my dad and me being two of the few in the dining room–where the table rims were up to keep the dishes from sliding off!

1952-aug-pam-and-don-lentsI remember loving our house. It was a typical English row house with a small front yard where my mother put my youngest brother (who was born in England) to sun on those days when the sun was out.

I remember going to the hospital to see my mother hold my youngest brother up to the window so we could see him. The hospital seemed so big, although it was only two stories high.

I remember the fog! We were still burning coal, and so during the winter there was lo1953-jul-whitsuntide-paradets of fog to walk through on my way to school.

I remember marching in the Whitsuntide parade as part of our church group…

I remember my baptism in our little church in Nuneaton. It was on my birthday–in March–and it was cold!! But it was such a special day.

I remember gathering rhubarb in the church yard…and the tangy taste of the pies.

I remember playing for church on an old reed organ. Someone else (I don’t remember who) had to pump the pedals for me because I couldn’t reach both keyboard and pedals. In some ways I’d like to have a time machine to watch myself playing…but in other ways I’m just as glad I can’t. But I am appreciative of the congregation allowing me to share in that way.

I especially remember Uncle John and Aunt Anne Coggan. He was the pastor of our congregation and ran a bakery in Nuneaton…a wonderful bakery.  In fact, the bakery was how the church got started. When kids would come for a sweet, Uncle John would ask if they went to church. If they did, that was fine; if they didn’t he invited them and their families to their house for Bible stories on Sunday morning.  (The bakery was still in business when I went back for a visit 25 years later–then run by Uncle John’s son.)

I remember bonfires on November 4, celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. I wasn’t aware of the violence behind the day…just the fun for us kids.

I remember visiting Stratford-upon-Avon…and attending one of Shakespeare’s comedies at the theatre there.

I remember traveling with my folks to Germany for a family camp…and learning just enough German to ask for a cold drink of water, please.

I re1953-coventry-cathedral-ruins2member being at Trafalgar Square and the pigeons swarming my brother’s white-blond hair as we fed them.

I remember visiting Coventry and enjoying two very different experiences. One was loving the statue and story of Lady Godiva while the other was much more somber. It was not all that long after the end of the war, and visiting Coventry Cathedral was a reminder of the damage and horrors of war–as well as the challenge to what it meant to Christians…

I remember being vaguely aware of the food rationing. We got one egg per person per week, and so there were often decisions about whether we were going to eat them or save them for a cake.

I remember feeling completely British–and being annoyed when an older classmate called me “a Yankee.” Dad suggested I call him “a limey”…and he was not happy about that! But I also remember thinking when we came back to the States that I was only going to stay here until I was old enough to go “back home.” All my friends and memories were there. By the time I was 18, though, I had come to feel more comfortable here–but it was not until I went back for a visit 25 years later that I really knew where my home was.

As I said in one of my poems in my book People, Places…and Other Musings

Each home has its problems;
each home has its joys.
My home is now the world–
that’s where my heart is.

 

One country…one world…one people

Over the last several days, I have seen far too many posts and far too many news stories that are built on hate, fear, distrust, and creation of division. It is time for this to stop!

I can’t do it by myself. None of us can. But if many of us decide that enough is enough, then we can begin to make an impact.

I remember one of the first pictures I saw from space–the world, without borders or divisions except those caused by nature. It was a vivid reminder that while I live among a specific group of people in a specific country, I also live with many others in one world.

earth from space

When I bleed, my blood looks the same color as anyone else’s. If all anyone sees is the blood, how can they know what color I am? or what I believe?

I have lived in–and visited–countries other than the one I grew up in. Yes, there have been differences–and some of them have made me a little uncomfortable. But it has also been exciting to learn from other cultures and people…to broaden my horizons.

I have tried to learn languages other than my own. Not very successfully–that does not appear to be one of my skills. But when I have attempted to communicate with people who speak those languages in their language, we have been able to make a connection. That doesn’t mean we have agreed on everything, but when we have attempted to reach out to each other, we have discovered that there is much we have in common.

I have members of my family whose faith traditions are very different from my own. Yet they are as concerned for family, friends, and our world as I am.

I have members of my own family whose gender and/or sexual orientation are different from my own. Yet they are still deeply loved–and valued–members of our family.

Whatever faith tradition we belong to (or none), there is no reason for us to look for ways to divide ourselves from each other. If we do that, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction.

It is time for us to stop the words of fear and hate. It is time for us to stand up and say “Enough!” It is time for us to look for ways to work together to meet the needs of all people in our world…to take care of our earth.

Whatever country we live in, we are still part of one people…one world.