Romanticizing our history…

For the last fifteen years or so, I have enjoyed going out to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. There have been wonderful shows of all types…fun visiting with “royalty”…and I have a number of friends who perform out there.

I also enjoy medieval murder mysteries…plays (think Lion in Winter) and TV shows (think Merlin).

It is fun…but it’s also not real. It’s a romanticized view of a very real history.

When we think about living “back then,” I would imagine that most of us dream of being a king or queen, prince or princess—or at the very least, a member of nobility. Who would choose to be a peasant?!

But do we think about what it was really like? The challenges and concerns a king might have had…of maintaining a wealthy façade…fears of being poisoned…fighting frequent wars. Or the challenges and concerns of a queen…being “sold” in marriage…possibly dying in childbirth. Those concerns (and others) aren’t part of our romanticized history.

Sometimes it’s just fun to “play” history. But sometimes doing that has very real—and lasting—impacts. We forget what really happened and ignore the damage that the real history caused (and may still be causing).

We romanticize our religious history, and by so doing, we continue to believe that those whose beliefs we support were always in the right…and those whose beliefs are different from ours were (and are) heretics who don’t deserve the same rights we have.

Even in our own specific faith traditions, romanticizing our history keeps us from really understanding how that tradition developed and keeps us from letting it grow.

We also often romanticize our own country’s history at times and do that to our peril. When we are not honest about past behavior, we ignore its continuing impacts…the breakup of families…the feeling of race superiority…the genocide of indigenous peoples…

Romanticizing history can be an enjoyable amusement. But it’s not a healthy way to live in a real world.

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I am not your enemy

When did the mere fact that I disagree with you make you decide that I am your enemy?

I have not attacked you; in fact, I still like you personally. I believed that we had the same goals–of making this world a safe one for everyone…of valuing the worth of all people–that the differences we had was in how to go about accomplishing those goals.

Yet somehow those disagreements have made you decide that we are no longer friends but rather that I am your enemy.

When I have asked for the places you have gotten your information, I have been asking so that I can compare it with the information I have. I believe that in many cases the truth we are both seeking is probably somewhere in the middle–and by comparing our information sources, we would both have a better understanding of what each other is hearing.

When I have asked questions about why you believe the way you do, it has been because I have wanted to try to understand your perspective.

When I have asked for specifics about why you feel the way you do, again, it is because I want to understand. There have been times when we have been involved in the same discussions and you have complained about being attacked…attacks that I have not seen. When I have asked for specific incidents or posts, it’s not because I am looking for a “gotcha”; it’s because I genuinely am trying to see what it is I’ve missed.

When I do or say what I believe I am called to do or say because I follow Jesus, I’m not attacking you. He called me to stand with the marginalized, the oppressed…those on the outside of society. When I agreed to become a minister in his name, I took on that commitment. That doesn’t mean that I am saying that everything you are doing is wrong. It simply means that I am following his call to me.

And yet somehow all of that has made me your enemy. You have decided that because I seem liberal in my political beliefs, I am your enemy. You have decided that I am not interested in your perspective…that I am demanding that everything be “my way or the highway.”

That’s wrong.

I want to find ways for us to work together. I know we’re not always going to agree, and I’m okay with that. But if we have the same goals–of making this world a better world–isn’t it possible for us to find ways to accomplish that together?

You are not my enemy. Please don’t make me yours.

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.

“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.

 

God did it…

A number of years ago, there was a comedian (Flip Wilson) whose signature line was “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at him–sometimes ruefully–because I think many of us wished we could blame problems / bad choices on something / someone outside ourselves. For many of us, it wasn’t serious. Yes, we acknowledged that there is evil in the world, but many of us did not believe that there was a devil with horns and a pitchfork holding puppet strings on us and making us do bad things.

Fast forward to today…

Instead of “the devil made me do it” we are hearing far more often “God did it!” That statement is often in reference to our current president–that God put him in place.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that any more than I did “the devil made me do it.”

God didn’t create puppets. We are created with minds to use…to think and to make decisions ourselves. And we then face the consequences of those decisions.

Yes, God can–and does–use flawed human beings. There are plenty of stories about that in the Bible. Those names–David, Solomon, Samson, Jonah (and others)–are often held up as examples, and I believe they can be. Just not in the way many people like to use them. They were human beings who made some lousy choices. Despite those choices, when they were willing to allow God to use them, God could.

But did God put them in place? And make them make those decisions?

Nope.

No more than God is sitting somewhere “up there” looking down on us and deciding that this person should be president and that one should not. I believe that God works with us and tries to guide us into making wise choices…but not that God removes our freedom to make choices…or our living with the consequences of those choices.

“God did it…”? No. We did it (whatever “it” we are talking about)…and it would be wise of us to acknowledge our responsibility in creating the kind of world we are living in…and our responsibility for cleaning up the messes we have made.

We need to talk…

In my family, the words “We need to talk…” tend to signal something serious–some kind of issue that needs to be dealt with…a clearing of the air. That’s not always true, but I have to admit that when I hear (or say) those words, my gut clenches a bit and I begin to wonder “Uh-oh…now what?”

So let me say them to you. “We need to talk…” I hope your gut doesn’t clench, but there are some issues we need to deal with…some air that needs to be cleared.

I am alarmed at much of the rhetoric I am seeing and hearing. We’re not talking with each other…we’re talking past each other–and we’re so focused on making sure that we get our say in, that our responses are well-crafted, that we’re not listening. That alarms me for our future–and for what our kids are learning from us.

I’m not saying that we can’t disagree. We can…and I think we must, because we need to hear a diversity of viewpoints. After all, we come from a variety of backgrounds…we’ve had very diverse experiences as we’ve grown up and as we’ve interacted with others. So why shouldn’t our viewpoints be different?

But somehow we need to be able to see that diversity as a strength. We have been blessed through the years with foods and words from different cultures…with stories and spiritual practices from different faith traditions…with knowledge that has been saved because past cultures thought it important.

Please hear what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that we cannot / should not stand against injustice, division, hate. I believe we must. But we must do that in ways that are not hateful themselves. Is that difficult? You bet! But I believe that we have examples that we can follow that show it’s possible.

In the movie Gandhi, there’s a scene that makes me shudder when I think of it. Gandhi was leading a protest against the policy of forcing India to buy salt at high prices from England…he mobilized literally hundreds of people in a march to the sea to make salt–where they were met by English soldiers. They marched four abreast towards the sea…were clubbed down and carried away by those waiting to help…and the next group stepped forward. There seemed to be no end to the people who were willing to take a non-violent stand against injustice–and the policy was changed.

I also look at the pictures from the Civil Rights movement–when individuals marched peacefully in protest, meeting water cannons, snarling dogs, and words of hate. Eventually things changed–not as much as we would have hoped, but people began to think.

I hear people talking about the possibility (probability?) of a “soft” civil war–a war of words. Words are important–and the way we use them can either help lead us to finding ways of working together or they can lead to violence.

We can disagree on ways to reach goals…we can even at times disagree on what those goals should be. But what we shouldn’t disagree on is the need to see “the other” as human, as brother and sister…and the need to use our environment wisely so that all living things (human and otherwise) can do more than just survive but can have abundant life.

We need to talk…