Words hurt…or heal

I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently…about words and the impact they can have on us.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the wars the United States has been involved in–or whose parents or grandparents told us about them–can remember the ugly names we used to describe our enemies.

Those words were designed to dehumanize those we were fighting…to keep us from seeing them as human beings like us…with families who loved them…who had similar dreams and hopes as we did. And it succeeded–far beyond the war(s). Many of those words were used to describe people from those countries well beyond the end of the “official” war.

The United States is not the only country that did this. Others did as well. The example that had one of the most horrific results was Nazi Germany–with its description of “the other” (handicapped, Jews, Roma) as “vermin,” “mongrels,” “subhuman.”

The sad thing is that we see much of that being repeated today. People fleeing violence and poverty are being described by the current administration as “criminals” and “rapists” who are “infesting” the United States. The truth is that less than 1% of those seeking asylum are people we might fear. The rest are families or individuals who are trying to find a safe place–and who want to build better lives for themselves and their families.

I’m reminded of a book I loved by Robert Heinlein–Methuselah’s Children. It was the story of a particularly long-lived group of families…people who lived long enough that they became resented by those who lived “normal” lifespans. At one point in the book, as the families are gathering to try to find a safe place, Lazarus Long (the patriarch of the family) is watching and reading the news–and shows how subtle use of language is separating them from everyone else and demonizing them…making them “less than” and also someone to fear.

Yet words also have the power to heal and to bring us together. We have to be intentional to do this…to use words that include “the other”…to call out those words that are intended to divide us and foment hate.

It’s our choice. It’s easy to join the mobs that call out for separation…for dehumanizing and fearing those who are different. It’s more difficult to stand for those who have been marginalized…to delight in diversity rather than fear it.

But one brings death…the other brings life.

Some thoughts on cohabitation…

I’ve been watching and reading discussions on cohabitation and how it relates to the possibility for individuals’ ministry and their relationship to the church (specifically my faith community, but I know it’s problems in others as well).

At one point in my life, the answer would have been easy. Cohabitation was wrong. Period. No exceptions…no extenuating circumstances…no other perspective.

But as I’ve grown—both chronologically and spiritually—I’m realizing that the answer is NOT easy. And so I find myself living in a gap between my emotional feelings that developed so many years ago and the challenge to try to see through new eyes.

I’ve wondered if our perspective on marriage needs to be re-evaluated to help us look at the challenges cohabitation raises. Yes, it’s been around for a long time—but for many years, marriage was more a passing of “property”…of the woman into the custody of her husband. Even in Christian countries, marriage was not particularly church-related. Again, it was often for the passing of property and the cementing of political alliances—not the commitment of two people who loved each other and who wanted to spend their lives together.

In fact, many times that commitment was simply expressed through a choice to begin living together…perhaps acknowledged by a hand-fasting or some other communal acknowledgment.

While I am in full support of marriage, that has been relatively easy for me. I am a heterosexual female, and so there was no question but that marriage was a probability for me (although I also now realize that was not necessarily a given).

But for many of my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, marriage has not been any kind of possibility/probability until fairly recently. While some have chosen to not commit in any way, others have found their own way of making commitments to each other—commitments that are as real as the commitment my husband and I made to each other. Should they not be honored as well? In many ways, we are asking an entire community to make changes in how they relate to the rest of us without our being willing to acknowledge our lack of commitment to them…and an awareness of how that has shaped their community.

There are also challenges for heterosexual couples as well. Because of the way some of our financial systems are set up, marriage for older individuals may mean losing financial security. There are many reasons why both older and younger individuals may choose to forgo marriage, and I would not presume to know them all.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of these choices. But I have known—and continue to know—many couples who are in longterm committed relationships whose commitment to each other is as strong (and sometimes stronger) as the commitments of my married friends.

So while I strongly support marriage, I also don’t think that a “one size fits all” model works either. When we try to force everyone into a single box, we risk missing out on possibilities of ministry—both given and received.

I believe we need to look seriously at how commitment is expressed. In many cases, that may be through marriage. But not always—and I think that to insist that marriage is the only expression of a committed relationship does harm…to the individuals involved, to the church, and to the community.

Our words have consequences

There’s a children’s song that includes these lyrics: “be careful, little eyes, what you see…be careful, little feet, where you go…be careful, little mouth, what you say.”

I thought of that when I heard the news of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand–and the fact that one of those arrested had a social media account linked to an 85-page anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim manifesto.

Our words have consequences!

When we demonize entire groups of people–whether because of their religion, their sexual or gender identity, their politics, or any other way we choose to divide into us versus them–we should not be surprised when someone then finds it acceptable to attack those same groups.

We then hear words of condolence and condemnation–often from the same individuals/organizations/entities that demonized them in the first place.

Such hypocrisy!

We may not always agree with each other. In fact, I’m sure we won’t. But it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

When we are willing to learn about each other–why we worship the way we do…why we have chosen the political path we are on…what it means to have a gender or sexual identity different from what is considered the norm–then we will see that those we call “them” often have the same challenges, concerns, cares, and hopes that we do.

They want better lives for their children–just as we do. They want a place to live and enough to eat–just as we do. They want a world where war isn’t the norm–just as we do.

Finding the solutions to the problems in the world is not going to be easy. But our words can help us find ways toward peace–or create more violence.

Which kind of world do we want? Our words do have consequences.

What color is your world?

My world used to be black and white. There was a right answer and a wrong answer. There was a right way to do things and a wrong way. There was one right way to believe and everything–and everyone–else was wrong.

It was an easy and a comfortable way to live.

I didn’t have to struggle with ambiguity. I could make quick and easy judgments…based on what I knew was right.

But then I began to get acquainted with people who believed differently from me–but who lived in what I knew was the right way.

I met people from different countries and discovered that even though we differed on politics and sometimes religion, we had a lot in common.

I became friends with people whose loved differently than I did…who loved people of the same sex. And I met others whose seemingly obvious birth gender didn’t match with their internal gender.

I began to listen to scientists who caused me to question some of my earlier simplistic beliefs.

And my world changed colors.

blue green and red abstract illustration

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

It was no longer just two colors. It began to be filled with bright, beautiful colors–colors of the rainbow.

Sometimes I miss my easy and comfortable way of living–but then I look around and realize that all the colors make my life exciting and beautiful…just as I believe God created life to be.

Bridging the gap?

Individuals in many faith traditions are struggling with this question: How do we share and worship together in our diversity, still holding to our own personal beliefs while engaging with others who may believe differently? How do we build bridges? This guest post articulates those concerns. I share the desire to bridge the gap between myself and others whom I like but have significant disagreements with…but I also find myself wondering if that is still possible.

I have kept this close for a while now, these feelings and thoughts haunting my waking hours and shading how my eyes see the others in my life.  I was once asked by a friend and fellow Christian, to give space for their beliefs and interpretation, to not let my own view push theirs out or away.  I agreed with the validity of the point and their life experience and have attempted to do so over the last few years.  We have engaged on a number of topics and have found many points of agreement, even as we continue to disagree on many others.

However…

As our country and our shared faith has undergone tremendous change and stress over the last few years the gulf between us has continued to grow, despite (or maybe because of) our efforts to keep the bridge open and together.  I do not claim, nor can I know for sure their thoughts, and do not mean to put words into their mouth or intentions behind the actions I see, that is for them to share.  But for myself I am feeling less and less like there is room in our relationship for my way of being and believing.  As we have shared it has seemed (to me) to become less about listening to each other and more about being pressed to agree.  It does not matter who started it, I’m not even sure I could say for sure if I had to, and both of us are guilty of it at times.  But as their position has solidified, the ground between us has continued to move us apart and now, when I stretch out my hand, our fingers no longer touch and I can’t help but be saddened by that fact.  And wonder what has happened and if it’s even possible to cover the distance any more.  And this friend is not the only one this has happened with.

Social media has may positives, but in so many ways, I am not convinced it does anything to improve our lives or our communities.  I have trouble reconciling the people I see on Facebook with the people I see in church, at work, on the street.  For several, including the one mentioned above, I have to wonder that if they really believe what they post, how on earth do they tolerate being around me?  And then that questioning filters into how I interpret our physical interactions… and I wonder.  I also question how I can continue to be an ally to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and still want to maintain “peace” with those who refuse to see how our actions continue to hurt people of color, the LGBT+ community, etc.  Am I really an ally then?

Martin Luther King Jr’s words continue to haunt me – “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I no longer wish to be silent but I do not know what words to speak.  My prayer is that whatever words I use, may they be spoken in support of justice and love, of the Shalom of the peaceable kingdom, and of the worth of each person, even if those words require me to speak up in ways I find uncomfortable or even scary.

Under the skin we are one…

Recently we went to a production of a musical I had wanted to see for a number of years. In many ways I’m glad we saw it where we did–it made it much more real.

The show was Cabaret–and the place we saw it was a Jewish community center…which has armed police at the entrance every show because a few years ago, someone decided he was going to try to kill Jews. He ended up killing and wounding several people–only one of whom was Jewish.

So to see a show which takes place in 1931 Germany under those circumstances made it a powerful evening.

But it was powerful in other ways as well. There is a scene where Herr Ludwig–right after we have discovered he is a Nazi–becomes angry when he discovers that Herr Schultz is Jewish. He is adamant that Schultz is not a German.

And Herr Schultz’s innocent naiveté…that nothing will happen because he knows these Germans–because he is one…is so saddening because we know that his German birth and ancestry will end up  meaning nothing.

As I watched the show, I was reminded that we seem to find so many ways to divide ourselves from each other–and yet, under the skin we are one. We all bleed the same color blood. We all want better lives for our children and grandchildren. We all have hopes and fears. We all understand that there is something more powerful than we can understand that has created (and continues to create) this world we live in–regardless of how we identify it.

And yet… There are so many names we call each other. Names that dehumanize and demonize each other. Names that make it possible for us to decide that it’s okay to discriminate against a specific group of people because they are somehow less than our own group.

And I’m tired. I know there are problems that need to be fixed. I know there are policies that need to be developed and changed.

But I’m tired.

I’m especially tired of hearing those words…those dehumanizing, demonizing, separating names…come out of the mouths of those who say they are followers of Jesus. Jesus, who crossed all kinds of barriers…who saw all people as valued brothers and sisters.

All major religions have as a priority some statement that calls us to treat each other as we ourselves want to be treated…an acknowledgment that under the skin we are one. What will it take for us to start living that way?

Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.