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.”

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.

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.

…to be reconciled to each other

I’ve been thinking about the word “reconciliation” for several days now…pondering how it might apply to the climate we find ourselves in.

How do we reconcile to each other?

It’s not easy.

But I think it’s imperative…and for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus, it’s a commandment.

So what is it?

While there are different definitions, the one I’m thinking about is “the restoration of friendly relations.” The origins of the word trace back to a couple of Latin words meaning “bring back together.”

It certainly doesn’t take much looking around for us to see the need for reconciliation…in our families…our churches…our society.

But who is going to take the first step? and what is that first step?

We can’t reconcile with each other unless we are willing to acknowledge the division between us. That doesn’t mean placing blame…doing that doesn’t get us any closer to reconciliation. In fact, it may make the division even deeper.

When South Africa ended apartheid, it would have been easy to say “Okay, we’ve ended it. Now everything is fine and dandy.” But the divisions were too deep. Instead, they went through a difficult process of acknowledging the division…of allowing and encouraging individuals to acknowledge their own role in that division…and only then was is possible for reconciliation to take place.

Was it easy? No. Did it accomplish everything hoped for? Again, no. But it began a process.

In American, there are so many divisions. They cross every spectrum you can think of, and they are not helped by the language we hear far too often today.

Where do we start? By being willing to listen to each other, even if what we hear is difficult or is something we don’t agree with.

Each of us has our own perspective on what is going on around us. I may not agree with yours–but you live your life according to that perspective. Unless I am willing to truly listen to what you believe is happening, I am not willing to reconcile. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with your perspective…but if I want you to hear what I am saying, then I have to listen to you as well.

I may want someone else to make the first move, but that can only continue to lead to a standoff.

Jesus said that if I bring a gift to church and remember that my brother (or sister) has something against me, then I should put my gift down and make the first move to be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Easy? No.

I like to hold on to my “rightness”…and this challenges me. I might still be right, but this calls me to take the first step.

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.–Desmond Tutu

In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.–Nelson Mandela

May we have the courage to truly reconcile with each other.

 

“He says what I think”

For me, one of the most frightening statements to come out of this year’s election (and post-election) is this: “I (voted for/support) Donald Trump because he says what I think.” Why do I find that frightening?

Let me make a couple of things clear. I do believe that there are legitimate discussions needed about our immigration system. There are too many people caught in limbo, waiting for years for their citizenship applications to be approved. There are challenges with border security that need to be discussed–and that needs to include discussions about the economic factors that cause people to come illegally. We live in a world where there are many, many refugees–and we need to work with other countries to create a policy that acknowledges their needs and fears and tries to find ways to meet them.

However…

When I hear people say that, it usually goes along with negative statements towards those who are seen as “other” in some way. It seems to relate to demonizing others…grouping all members of one race/religion together, while seeing nothing wrong with one’s own race/religion. I hear it in reference to statements about those who are poor and who need help to get back on their feet…those whose sexuality/gender identity is not easily understandable.

And I am reminded of something in the Bible. In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus is talking to his followers. Not to them alone, but after he has been asked questions by those who didn’t believe in him…who wanted to trap him. They were religious and political leaders of their day, and they found Jesus’ teachings frightening because they challenged the status quo. Jesus taught…healed…challenged.

He told those who were listening to love their enemies…to do good to all…to pray for those who abused them…to give more than they were asked to. He told them to do unto others as they would have done to them. He called on them to be merciful…to not judge…to see the hypocrisies in their own lives before calling out others.

And then…

Then he gave this response: “…it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

So what do our words say about us? What do we really think?

Do Donald Trump’s words really reflect what we think? They don’t for me…

To be a transformer

I’m an avid reader…some might say a fanatic reader. I usually have anywhere from 3-10 books going at any one time.

But this weekend, two books came together with one of those “aha” moments that we often talk about.

The first is For the Glory, and I had picked it up at the library because several years ago I had seen the movie Chariots of Fire and was intrigued by the story of Eric Liddell. We only had a snippet of his life there, along with a brief post-movie comment about his death during the war in China. This book promised more–and it delivered.

Sometimes there are people who seem to good to be true. If Liddell had not really lived, reading about him would have tended to make me say “No way.” After his Olympic victory, he returned to what he saw as his life calling–being a missionary in China, where he was born. He was truly a living representative of Jesus…the best Jesus. Wherever he was, he was open to people…willing to spend time with them…willing to listen…a peacemaker. This was true even in the camp where he died of a brain tumor, far too young. He truly saw everyone as children of God, even the guards. When he came in contact with those who were cruel, he returned cruelty with calm and peace. He prayed for everyone–even (or perhaps especially) for the guards. He was someone everyone wanted to be with…and represented the ideal presence of the Divine, no matter what the circumstances were.

The other book is one my spiritual advisor and I are reading together (and I think God must really have a sense of humor, because sometimes the readings really zing at a particular time!). It’s a wonderful book by Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire (and the subtitle is “A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity).

We were reading about the difference between amazement and pondering…and the way in which pondering can help remove tension. It’s more than just “thinking,” which is how I had always defined it. Yet the metaphor that Rolheiser used was an important part of the “aha”:

…the opposite of pondering is amazement, and the metaphor for amazement is that of an electrical cord, a wire that acts as a mindless conduit, simply letting energy flow through it. The metaphor for pondering is that of a water purifier. A filter does not act as a simple conduit for what passes through it. Rather, it takes in water full of toxins, dirt, and impurities, holds the toxins, dirt and impurities inside of itself, and gives back only pure water. It absorbs what is negative, holds the negative inside itself, and gives back only what is pure. Human energy passes through us in the same way: either we act as a simple conduit, or we act as a filter. (p. 161)

Aha! In this post-election period, there is a lot of negative energy around us. We can either simply let it pass through us…and, perhaps, add our own negative energy to it, feeding the tension.

Or we can transform it–acknowledge and accept what is negative, and return (and pass on) what is good. It’s not easy. Our human nature is to return in kind what we receive.

And this is where the rest of my “aha” experience was. I have been deeply disappointed in the results of this election and have found it easy to allow the negativity to just pass through without doing anything about it. As I was preparing for bed, I then began to have a sense that I needed to be spending time in prayer. And again, this is where I sensed God’s sense of humor…because it was with the thought of “Yes, I know how you would like to pray for the new leaders–but that’s not what is needed!”

It’s not easy. And it doesn’t mean ignoring situations that are abusive or discriminatory. That doesn’t transform–it enables. Another statement from Rolheiser: “Sometimes the loving thing to do is not the gentle, accommodating, and long-suffering one. In the face of positive abuse of clinical dysfunction, Christian discipleship can demand hard confrontation and perhaps even a distancing of ourselves from the person or persons who are causing the tension.” (p. 163)

If you’ve read this far, you’ve discovered there’s a lot to absorb. But I’d like to invite you to join me in this challenge to be transformers–it’s going to take a lot of us!

Still stunned…what do I say?

I stayed up late to watch the election results come in–but gave up about midnight. It was looking pretty clear that the election was not going to go the way I had hoped it would, although I wondered if I would wake up to a Dewey-Truman upset situation. That wasn’t to be.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we have done.

do understand that there are a large number of people who do not trust Hillary Clinton. While I don’t agree, I do respect their perspective.

What I can’t get my head around is that she was considered to be the most honest and the most qualified of the two major candidates–and yet, a majority of the people who said that still voted for Donald Trump…because they felt he was most likely to bring about change.

But what kind of change?

I hope he will be more like he sounded in his speech…but I struggle with his statement that it’s time for us as a country to pull together and that he wants to be the president for all Americans. That is what I want to…but his whole campaign seemed to be built on dividing us rather than pulling us together.

And I’m concerned that we still don’t understand each other.

While I know this is a blanket statement that doesn’t necessarily hold true for everyone, those who voted for Trump seem now to be saying “It’s time to get over it…time to move on.” But do they not understand the fears and concerns of many who voted for Hillary? those who were the targets of Trump’s divisive rhetoric? those who now fear that this campaign unleashed hateful rhetoric and actions that will be difficult to put back in the bottle because it was made acceptable?

Too many people who were marginalized in the past–and who had hopes that things were changing–are now finding themselves being pushed back into the margins–and fear for their lives…their jobs…their homes…their loved ones.

  • Nazi symbols are being painted on the churches and homes of African-Americans.
  • LBGT folks have been attacked simply walking on the street and been told they belong in concentration camps.
  • Married LGBT couples are fearful about the future of their marriages.
  • Latinos have been told they should go back to Mexico, even if they were born here.
  • African-American children have been told they should “get back in place.”
  • Women are fearful that crude sexual language has become acceptable–and that sexual assaults are “just boys being boys.”
  • Muslim women in many places are fearful of wearing the hijab in public.
  • Individuals with disabilities have been mocked.

This may not be happening where you live…and it may not be anything you agree with. But over the last several months, the language of bullying has become more acceptable…and those who are the recipients of it (and their friends and allies) have become more fearful of what the future holds.

Yes, I know that our future first lady has said that she will take on cyber-bullying. I really hope she does…but she’s going to have a challenge with that, since her husband’s campaign seemed to free people to be open about their bullying language and actions.

We will heal–I hope. But we also need to have time to grieve–and to listen to (and try to understand) the fears and concerns of those who find themselves wondering if there is truly a place for them in Trump’s America.