Let’s get serious, people!

I’m furious today! Furious…appalled…disappointed…there aren’t enough words to express my feelings.

Why?

I’m furious at people who are not taking COVID-19 seriously. This is not just like the flu we deal with every year. It’s more like the 1918 pandemic.

I’m furious at those who continue to congregate in large groups, ignoring requests and orders to avoid gatherings or shelter in place because they don’t think it will impact them.

I’m furious at religious leaders who see no reason to stop services because they believe that they are somehow protected because of their beliefs.

I’m furious at an administration that frittered away weeks when we could have begun taking actions to mitigate the spread of this virus…and who continues to minimize its seriousness.

I’m furious at those who are asking first responders to put their lives–and their family’s lives–on the line without appropriate and necessary protective equipment as they deal with individuals suffering from this virus.

I’m furious at those who consider the elderly and vulnerable as “collateral damage” in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Yes, I know the economy is important–but not at the expense of our humanity.

I don’t know what alternate universe some are living in. How in God’s name can you look at what’s been happening in other parts of the world and believe that we’re not as vulnerable? Those areas that have taken major (and difficult!) steps to try to stop this virus have been doing better; the areas that have waffled and delayed…that didn’t think it was any big thing for weeks have been hit hard.

It’s time…no, it’s past time…for us to get serious about this. This is the time to listen to those who have studied past pandemics and viruses…who can give advice based on science and facts.

For the sake of everyone, please listen to those who know what they’re talking about–and then follow them!

 

The best teachers are agitators against the norm…

The best teachers are agitators–and I mean that in a positive sense. They challenge the status quo…what we think we know.

As our children begin to learn about the world they live in, teachers encourage them to explore…to ask “why”…to figure out how things work. Yes, there are some basics that just have to be learned, but children learn by experimenting…by questioning.

As they get older, the best teachers encourage them again to ask “why”…to question the status quo…to seek to understand how the world works…why people act (and react) in specific ways…

And as they get even older, again the teachers who agitate encourage them to think for themselves…to discover what they believe and why. They encourage them to challenge doing or understanding things the way they always have been…to discover new ways of seeing…new perspectives. They encourage them to experiment…to see how previously “impossible” things can be made possible…

If this didn’t happen, we would still be in a world in which space exploration was impossible. We would believe the world was flat. We would not have medicines that have made the world safer. We would not be able to see that there are many ways of understanding the Divine…or enjoy reading and watching movies.

We still have a long way to go. But I am grateful for those agitating teachers who have challenged me in the past. It’s because of them that I am more certain of my faith…that I can honor those who have studied the natural world to better understand how it works. It’s because of them that I can go to doctors when I am sick and be treated out of knowledge, not myth. It’s because of those agitating teachers who challenged the status quo that I can look back and see the progress we have made.

They’re not perfect–and neither are we. There are still many areas in which we have much to learn–and unlearn. I am aware that the history I learned is not a complete history–there are many untold stories that may very well change what I thought I knew. There are lessons to be learned from other cultures…other faith traditions.

But I am also grateful that my faith tradition has scripture that calls for us to “seek…out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith”…that calls me to be willing to learn “things both in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth [all the sciences]; things which have been [history]; things which are [current events]; things which must shortly come to pass [future planning]; things which are at home [my country’s history and events]; things which are abroad [world history and events];…a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms…”

So I want to say thank you to those teachers who agitate against the status quo…who spend hours encouraging…grading…challenging…to reach beyond…to reach for the stars.

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?