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.

Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!

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.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones…”

How many of us remember the rest of that rhyme?

“But words will never hurt me.”

That is so not true. Broken bones will generally mend. But hearts and souls broken by words…maybe, but far too often, the words have broken someone so deeply that mending is not possible.

In my previous post, I said that under the skin we are the same. I had a friend take a little bit of an issue with what he thought I was saying–that we should find common ground with the oppressor, no matter what.

No, that’s not what I meant.

Yes, under the skin we are the same. However, we express our humanity in different ways–some healthy and some extremely unhealthy, both for ourselves and those we are around.

And unfortunately there are extremely unhealthy expressions being shared today. I have also indicated that I don’t very often make “political” statements on this blog…but I recently read quotes by Elie Wiesel and Desmond Tutu that are making me reconsider:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. – Elie Wiesel

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.  – Desmond Tutu.

There are far too many vulnerable people whose lives are in danger…physically and emotionally. And instead of challenging us to be our better selves, to find ways of being part of a solution, the current administration in the United States instead panders to what is ugly in us.

People who are seeking a place of safety…who want nothing more than a better life for their children…are being called thugs, criminals, rapists. People in this country without legal documents are called “illegals”–as though a human being can somehow be inherently illegal.

Members of the LGBTQ communities are being called names I thought we had put aside years ago. They are often fearful for their lives, and their marriages are being dismissed as “parody” marriages. The lack of support for young people struggling with their sexuality and forced conversion therapy for those who identify as LGBTQ has led to an epidemic of homelessness and suicide.

Members of religions other than Christianity are being demonized for the actions of a few extremists–while Christian extremists are excused with the words, “Well, that’s not really Christianity.” And yet some of the worst mass shootings in this country have been caused by people who identify as “Christian” and who believe that their white skin makes them somehow “better” than others. And we who are followers of Jesus have far too long been unwilling to see anything positive in any religion other than our own version of Christianity.

So yes…words do matter. And when we ignore those words, when we refuse to speak out in support of the vulnerable because we want to remain neutral or not rock the boat, then we become part of the problem.

And I do not want to be part of the oppression. I want to be part of a conversation in which we can learn from each other…in which we can figure out what the problems are and how to find solutions.

I have a dream…

In the United States, today is the day set apart for celebrating and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a good time to look at ourselves…to see where we’ve been (both as a country and individually)…to see where we are (again, both as a country and individually)…and to consider where we want to be (as a country and individually).

I remember the days of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s…

  • the hatred that was apparent on faces of individuals who did not want people of any other color than white sitting at lunch counters…
  • the taunting and harassing of young people–some young elementary students–who wanted access to the same quality of education as their white peers…
  • the awful pictures of peaceful protestors being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs…
  • the murders of individuals who were helping others with their rights to vote…
  • the murders of innocent children in a church…

Looking back, I can think that we’ve come a long ways. And yet…today I see so many situations that make us less than our best vision…

  • far too many African-American individuals being killed in their interactions with police with no apparent consequences…
  • demonization of individuals fleeing oppression and violence…
  • language from the top echelons of our government that promotes separation and division among races and ethnicities…
  • marches that promote white superiority…
  • mass shootings..
  • an unwillingness to listen to scientists and their concerns for our planet…
  • a brand of “Christianity” that insists on its superiority over any other understanding of the Divine…

You probably have your own list of concerns.

And yet…I also see hope…

  • in an increasing diversity of representation (at least in some areas)…
  • in young people who are standing up and saying “enough is enough”…
  • a growing community of people from a variety of backgrounds who are finding common ground even as they acknowledge their diversity…

And so, on this day when we remember a man who said, “I have a dream…” and who called us all to join in making that dream a reality, I also want to remember another challenge:

mlk quote on darkness and light

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!”

Having a dream

There are phrases and sentences that plant themselves in our memories and never go away. We may not always be aware of them–but they tend to surface at unexpected moments.

Sometimes they come from books and movies:

  • Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. (Gone with the Wind)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
  • We need a bigger boat. (Jaws)
  • A great man is passing by. (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Sometimes they come from songs:

  • The sound of silence (Simon and Garfunkel)
  • When will we ever learn? (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

And sometimes they come from political speeches:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. (John Kennedy)
  • We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  • I have a dream… (Martin Luther King)

While they come to us in a context, we make them our own. And these last few weeks/months, the quote that keeps rattling around in my mind is Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream…”

I dream of a day when we will see each other as brothers and sisters…when we will delight in our diversity–of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, age, religion…when we will honor what each one can bring to the table.

I dream of a day when economic disparities are a thing of the past…when each one has enough to meet their physical needs…when money is no longer what makes someone “important.”

I dream of a day when we understand the interconnectedness of all of creation…when we realize that we are not called to “subdue” the earth, destroying the environment we live in, but that we are called to be stewards.

I dream of a day when learning and knowledge are seen as important…and are available to all…when we see that both religion and science have something to teach us.

But all of this has to be more than merely a dream. Dreams can be ephemeral, vanishing in the morning when we wake up. For dreams to be more than words, actions have to be added to words.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what those actions should be, because each of us is different. Some of us are able to be activists, in the forefront of pushing for change. Some of us work better behind the scenes. Some of us are wordsmiths, creating blogs/plays/poems/stories that challenge who and what we are and call us to be better.

And so I say with Dr. King,

I have a dream today….I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will he able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will he free one day.