Hope is the thing with feathers…

This is one of my favorite of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sometimes recently it’s been difficult to have hope. I turn on the news…and hear yet more lies…more insults and name-calling…more negating the humanity of those who are “other”…and it is deadening to the soul.

I find myself wondering what I can do. I am only one person–a not very significant person in the political world–and so what power do I have? But then I am reminded of the comment attributed to Margaret Mead that a small group of committed citizens is the only thing that can change the world…and I know there are others out there who feel the same way I do. We just need to find each other and work together…

In her poem, Dickinson didn’t say that hope would just be around when the going was easy. It sings sweetest in the storms–and I believe we are in the middle of tremendous storms in the world right now.

So hope keeps showing up.

It shows up when I am reminded of Anne Frank’s belief in the innate goodness of people…a belief that in some ways seems naïve, given what happened to Anne and her family. But it’s the only way to keep going.

It shows up when I am reminded of comments like this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”

It shows up when I remember Mother Teresa saying “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”…and a saying attributed to her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And most of all, hope shows up to remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25…that when we give a cup of water…visit the sick and prisoner…clothe the naked…welcome the stranger…we are doing it to him.

So…I am one person. But I will continue to do what I can…and bring hope to those who wonder if there is any reason for hope.

Yes, we are in a storm–but the bird of hope still sings as long as there are those of us who are listening to our souls.

For the children

I am a follower of the one who is called the Christ. He was someone who love and spent time with the marginalized…the outcast…those who were considered “less than”…and that included children.

One of his strongest statements about children was this (as stated in Luke 17:1-2):

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NRSV)

“He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a millstone necklace and take a swim in the deep blue sea than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time!” (The Message)

I’ve been thinking about that the last few days…and have been reminded of a question often asked: “Is it good for the children?”

As we look around ourselves today, are our actions good for the children? Not just the children in our own homes…our own communities…our own nation…but all the children in the world.

What kind of environment are we leaving them? One in which they can breathe? in which they can delight in the diversity of creation? in which they can be safe? Or are we destroying the world around them?

What lessons are we teaching them? To cherish each other and to see each other as brother and sister? or to be afraid of someone who looks, speaks, loves, or worships differently from them?

Are we teaching them the importance of peacemaking and conflict resolution? Or are we teaching them that “might makes right”? that hatred is the strongest force in the world? that their lives are less important than vengeance…or oil?

We’re not going to be perfect. But we have the power to do better…and we must. Otherwise there will be no world for our children to inherit.

…a little child shall lead them.

This is a phrase from the description in the book of Isaiah about the peaceable kingdom…a place where

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

There are other places in the Bible where it talks about our need to have a child-like faith. Not a childish faith, but a child-like one.

As I’ve been watching the news recently, I’ve found myself pondering what it means to have that child-like faith.

Children tend to believe they can do anything. The words we adults use often encourage that belief.

  • If you want to do it badly enough, you can.
  • You can be (or do) anything you want.
  • Whether you think you can’t or think you can, you’re right.

And so for them, nothing is impossible.

We adults are often jaded. We are tired from the struggle. We see that life is not as simple…not as black and white…as we thought when we were younger. And so we often find that some things are impossible.

But we need the energy and “impossible” faith of youth. They are the ones who force us to face our fears…who challenge us to make our world better. They don’t take “no” for an answer…and because they don’t, we discover that the “impossible” things really are possible.

Who are some of these children who have challenged us?

  • Joan of Arc – led an army to free her country during the Hundred Years War. She was just 19 when she was killed.
  • Sophie Scholl fought against the Nazi regime and was killed when she was 22.
  • Anne Frank – kept a diary while in hiding from the Gestapo that has become a haunting memoir of both the evil around but also a faith in the goodness of people. She died in a concentration camp when she was 16.
  • Ruby Bridges – was the first African-American child to enter a segregated elementary school when she was 6.
  • Hector Pieterson – fought against apartheid in South Africa and was killed when he was 13.
  • Iqbal Masih – escaped from forced child labor in Pakistan and fought against child labor and for the right of children to receive an education. He was killed when he was 12.
  • James Chaney (21),  Andrew Goodman (20), and Michael Schwerner (24) – three civil rights workers who were killed as they were helping African-Americans to register to vote
  • Malala Yousafzai – defied the Taliban to campaign for the right for girls to be educated. She was shot in the head when she was 15 but survived and has become an advocate for human rights.
  • Greta Thunberg – has become a global leader for environmental issues, leading protests against global warming at age 16.

We need their passion…their energy…their hope for a better future.

We have lost our soul…

We have never been a perfect country…no country is. Nor have we ever been perfect people…none of us are.

But we have been a country with ideals that we tried to live up to–even imperfectly.

Those ideals have been enshrined in a number of documents.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

From the United States Constitution (a living document, because as needs have arisen, it has been modified):

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From the poem by Emma Lazarus, placed on the Statue of Liberty (called Liberty Enlightening the World–and which Lazarus called “Mother of Exiles”)  which was one of the first sights many of our ancestors saw as they came to this country:

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!”

But that door has now been slammed shut…and we have barred and locked it.

We have lost sight of the ways in which our diversity has strengthened us…and become fearful of differences instead.

We have become the world of Animal Farm, where “all animals are equal…but some are more equal than others”…a world where “might makes right”…a world where “whiteness” gives power and control over those deemed non-white…a world where what passes for Christianity is far too often non-Christian in its actions.

And in so doing, we have lost our soul.

Can we gain it back? I hope so.

But we can’t sit quietly and just hope. We have to work…to write letters…to protest…and most importantly, to vote! We have to live out our words.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be controversial.

But it’s essential if we are going to regain our soul.

 

Who are we…really?

I thought I knew.

I mean, I knew that we have had some ugliness in our history–starting with how the first white settlers treated the native inhabitants. They came to this country fleeing persecution and seeking new lives for themselves and their children–but frequently and brutally mistreated the people who were already here…determined to wipe them out.

And we had the ugly stain of slavery, when we again chose to see people of a different color and religion as somehow “less than” those who had power and control. We even fought a war over that–but we are still struggling with the impact of those relationships.

Let’s not forget the lynchings that grew out of the post-war period–when slavery proponents were trying to find ways to keep former slaves “in their place.” Those lynchings aren’t ancient history. The last “official” lynching took place in 1968, although 30 years later, the death of James Byrd by being dragged behind a truck could fit the definition of lynching. And it wasn’t just men who were lynched. Women were as well–as was 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose “crime” was to whistle at a white woman.

We’ve also had the time when we were happy to have Chinese immigrants here to help build the railroad…to do the laundry of those trying to make their fortunes by digging gold. But we didn’t want them to be part of our society–not really.

There was also the time when we allowed our fears of “the other” to make it “permissible” to force Japanese-Americans into internment camps, simply because of their background, not because of any verifiable concerns.

And at the same time, we denied asylum to thousands of people fleeing genocide in their country of Germany because of their religion…and yet, we “adore” Anne Frank’s diary. Her father had tried to get his family to America for safety–but we made that impossible through our immigration restrictions.

I had thought and hoped that perhaps we were past that…that as we looked back at our history, we could see how ugly that was and we could move closer to what we have held up as our ideals.

But as I have watched these last few years, it sometimes seems like we have learned nothing from our history.

Yes, we have had our first African-American president–whose hopes and goals were blocked by individuals who made no secret of their intention to block anything positive that he suggested. And he and his family were subject to racial epithets that came directly from the time of slavery.

And now we have an administration that has called people of color names that no one should be called. People of a non-Christian faith have been demonized and refused entry. Others who are fleeing persecution–just as many of the early American settlers did–are being denied a hearing and, in fact, are often being forced into internment camps.

And most recently, critically ill children who were brought to this country legally are now being told that their permission to stay here is withdrawn–without any medical evaluation–and told that they must leave or be forcibly deported. The medical care they need is found only here–and forcing them to leave is sentencing them to death.

Is this who we are?

Really?

We have taken pride in considering ourselves as a leader of the free world…as a “light on a hill”…as a place of safety and asylum. But our actions in the past have said otherwise…and our current actions definitely say otherwise.

So who are we, really? I’m not sure I know any more.

Conservative friends, I don’t hate you!

I disagree with you, but that doesn’t mean I hate you. It simply means that we are looking at things from different perspectives.

I know that makes it difficult in this polarized political climate–but often, when I post questions, it truly is in an attempt to understand you…or to try to help you understand me.

I want desperately for us to find some common ground, because I know we both care about people and about this earth we live on. And we have to find common ground somehow, or neither of us will survive.

Sometimes you’ve gotten angry with the things I post. I understand that. Sometimes I’ve gotten angry at the things you post as well. But again…that doesn’t mean that I hate you.

Sometimes you’ve thought that I’m being judgmental about your faith. No, that’s not what I mean. I simply don’t understand how to put together your stated belief in One who spent time with the marginalized and oppressed–and your support for an administration that seems determined to do all they can to harm the already marginalized and oppressed. I am trying to understand…I really am. But it’s difficult.

I know many of you have a strong belief in the Divine. And I know you do a lot of good things. I’m grateful for both of those things I know about you.

But here’s where I struggle…and this is what keeps us apart so much of the time. Please understand that I really am not trying to be judgmental. I’m just confused because this is how I see some things:

You say that fiscal conservatism is important, that we need to be careful about our spending. Yet it seems that you are okay with proposed cuts to programs that provide safety nets for the vulnerable in order to pay for big tax cuts for the wealthy.

You care for the environment, yet this administration seems to be gutting policies that protect the environment.

You say that all people are important and created in God’s image. Yet if they appear different from us (in color, gender or sexual orientation, religion), it seems to be acceptable to treat them differently…to separate families and treat their children in ways we would not want our own children or grandchildren to be treated. I am not talking policy here–just how we treat people as they are “in process.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ communities have been incredibly marginalized and persecuted in the past. Fairly recently there have been laws and policies that provide them the same rights heterosexuals have–but now those laws and policies are being withdrawn…and they are again vulnerable and marginalized.

You have taught me values–values of morality and good behavior. Yet you support a president who boasts about sexual assaults…who has cheated on his multiple wives…who mocks those who don’t agree with him and encourages his supporters to violently attack them…who consistently lies…who ignores the Constitution and has attacked our allies while supporting those who run their countries in ways that we were appalled at in the past. None of that behavior would be condoned by the values you taught me.

I don’t hate you. Nor do I hate President Trump.

do hate how we have allowed ourselves to be so divided that it is difficult to even raise these issues with each other to try to find common ground.

I hope we can talk.

 

 

 

Light in the darkness

There’s a wonderful parable that goes like this:

An old king had three sons–all good and wise men who would make good leaders. The old king wanted to ensure that his kingdom continued to succeed, but he wasn’t sure which son to name as heir.

Finally he decided that the best thing to do was to present the sons with a challenge. He called them before the court and said this: “There are no limits to what the future holds for us as we use the riches of the past and build on the foundations that have been laid for us. But a great leader must know how to make the best use of the means at his disposal to create growth and wealth and ultimately benefit the people of his kingdom. In order to determine who that leader should be, each prince will be given one bronze coin [the lowest coin in the currency] to buy what they choose to fill an empty room in my palace.”

The princes started their search. On the appointed day, they returned, ready to prove their fitness to be king. The first son had used his coin to buy empty barrels and filled them with water. He poured each of them into the room and watched as the water filled the room halfway.

The second son had used his to buy all of a farmer’s hay. The wagons rolled forward and the hay was unloaded into the room, filling it three quarters of the way full.

The third son walked into the room and stood quietly as it was cleared of the hay. He had no barrels or wagons…no boxes or carriages. The king wasn’t sure this son had taken the quest seriously and asked if he had brought anything with his single coin. The prince reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. He pulled a match out of the box and striking the side, lit a match, immediately illuminating the entire room.

Quietly he said, “Yes, I did…and I decided to fill this room with light.”

Each one of us walks in darkness at different times and in different ways. But each of us also has the opportunity to bring light into the darkness.

It doesn’t matter what has caused the darkness. Nor does it matter whether we think what will do or say will make any difference…it will.

Because I follow the One called Christ, I believe that he is the light-bringer…and that he also calls us to be witnesses and light-bringers. The Message says it this way (John 1:1-5):

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

Whether you follow him in the same way I do–or whether you follow others who have also been light-bringers–may we be witnesses, bringing light that cannot be put out into the dark places of our world.

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