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!”

Advertisements

Peace

Advent2

This Sunday we lit the Advent candle of peace.

That sounds a bit like an oxymoron in the society we are currently living in. We hear talk of wars…we see our environment being destroyed for short-term gains…we hear language that demonizes those who are different, whether that difference is due to race, ethnicity, gender, color, sexual identity or orientation, religion, politics, or any of the other myriad ways we can separate ourselves from each other. We see people dying for lack of basic needs while others have more than they could ever hope to spend in a lifetime.

So what peace are we talking about?

In English, “peace” is rather passive…an absence of conflict.

But I think the kind of peace being talked about when we light this Advent candle is more like the Hebrew word “shalom.” That means an absence of conflict, but it means so much more! It means healing…wholeness…reconciliation. It has to do with keeping promises…in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

That’s not easy. It’s sometimes so much simpler to just sit back and wish for a time when there is no conflict.

But Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” A contemporary translation (The Message) says it this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

So lighting this second candle of Advent–the candle of peace–challenges us to do more than just sit back and wish. It commits us to modeling the kind of relationships we want for the world…keeping our promises…doing all we can to bring healing, wholeness, and reconciliation to a world in desperate need of those gifts.

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.”

I don’t know what to say…

But it feels like I have to say something!

I keep trying to find words to express my dismay…

  • at a president who calls the free press “the enemy of the people.”
  • at people who cheered when bombs were sent to people they disagreed with…and whose only regret was that they didn’t go off.
  • at the constant barrage of shootings that are met only with “thoughts and prayers” but with no actions to try to make them less likely.
  • at the hatred and fear directed towards families who are trying to escape the wars and violence that our government has helped create.
  • at the idea that quoting the words of Jesus at an event talking about religious liberty can be seen as an attack.
  • at an administration that is trying to legislate a whole class of people our of existence.
  • at the voter suppression tactics that are making it difficult for people of color to claim their right to have their voices heard.
  • at our unwillingness to talk with each other rather than at each other.
  • at the constant demonization of specific groups of people based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation.
  • at the barrage of lies that come on a daily basis from the White House…and the lack of moral leadership.
  • at my fears that we are well on the road towards the loss of our democracy, yet we are unwilling to recognize that.

There are probably many other things I could mention.

Yet at the same time, there are things that give me hope:

  • the willingness of the Muslim community to step up to financially support the families whose loved ones were shot while worshiping–and their willingness to stand in protection at the synagogue.
  • the standing room only vigil held in Kansas City last night with individuals from many backgrounds, communities, and faiths coming together in support.
  • the voices of those who refuse to be silent in the face of injustice and hate.
  • the courage of those who are willing to walk for miles to try to find safety and hope for their families.
  • the courage of first responders.

Words matter.

And the words we choose to hear and the words we choose to speak can either divide us or bring us together.

Which will it be?

How long?

Another mass shooting….

Another round of thoughts and prayers….

Another series of “conversations” about whether or not changes in gun laws would have saved lives….

Another insistence that a “good guy” with a gun could have stopped the shooting…

Another time of red flags missed…

But people are still dead.

What should have been a time of peaceful worship…of celebration of the naming of a child…is destroyed in a rain of bullets and hate.

There will be more vigils….

And we will say “never again”….

But deep in our hearts we know it will happen again…because we are too in love with our guns to make any changes. Too in love with our ideas of “freedom” to work together to make our schools and places of worship safe for everyone. Too enamored with our freedom of speech to acknowledge that words of hatred and division have an impact.

How long?

And how many more will have to die?

How long…?

 

Where is our compassion?

I just can’t be silent.

I don’t care where you stand on the allegations made by Dr. Ford towards Judge Kavanaugh…whether you believe her or him…or whether you aren’t sure who to believe.

But if you listened to her testimony, it’s obvious that something traumatic happened to her so many years ago–something that is seared into her memory. And she is not alone.

Many, many people have shared stories since her testimony–stories that in many cases have never been shared with anyone else. Some of these stories go back even more decades than Dr. Ford’s testimony.

And in each of these cases, the individuals have re-lived some of that original trauma. Memories, pain, anguish have been triggered for these folks as well as for some who have chosen–for a variety of valid reasons–not to share the details of their own experiences.

And what has happened?

They have been disbelieved…questioned…and, even worse, laughed at and mocked by the president. Not just him, but those who were at the “rally” where he mocked her cheered and joined in the laughter. WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?

How many of those who were cheering and laughing have family members who have experienced sexual assault? Would they still be laughing and cheering if it were their daughter/mother/sister/grandmother/aunt who was being mocked?

And what about the children who were there? What did they learn? That it’s okay to laugh at sexual assault? That it’s a joke? That women’s voices don’t count? That women can’t be believed at all, but men can always be believed?

I’m just sick today. I cannot believe the level of cruelty that has been unleashed in our country.

And so I ask again, WHERE IS OUR COMPASSION?

#MeToo

Trigger warning…

 

We’ve heard a number of people talk about memories being triggered by something someone says…or a smell…or a place.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never experienced a sexual assault–but last night a memory came to mind that let me know just how close I came. I don’t know what triggered the memory; maybe it’s all the stories I’ve been hearing/seeing lately about strangers and friends who have experienced assault. Maybe it’s all the discussion around the allegations related to Judge Kavanaugh. I don’t know.

But here’s my memory.

First of all, you need to understand that I was one of those incredibly naïve young women in the 1960s. I had a lot of friends, but I didn’t date much in high school. Instead, there was a group of us who hung out together.

When I went away to college, I was still very naïve. My college was a church one, which meant there was no drinking. In fact, it was conservative enough that there was no dancing either. But we had a lot of other coed activities–safe activities.

I don’t remember all of the specifics of the situation. I don’t remember the date or the event, but I do know that we had had some kind of end-of-school activity. At the end of it, one of my classmates–let’s call him “X”–asked me to go for a walk. He was someone I’d been friends with for that year…and I’d had a bit of a crush on him. So I was thrilled he’d asked me.

We walked over to the football stadium. Our campus was small enough (and in a small town) so we walked just about everywhere. We sat on the bleachers, just snuggled together–him with his arm around me. We didn’t say much or do much of anything else–just looked at the stars.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, but it couldn’t have been a long time, because I had to be back at my dorm at a specific time. X is the one who said that it was time to leave.

As we were walking back to the dorm, he started talking. Again, I don’t remember the specific words he used, but I do remember that what he was telling me was that he had planned on raping me when he asked me to go with him. He changed his mind–I don’t know why. I had had no idea that I was in that kind of danger from him.

The one thing I do remember him telling me was to not be so trusting…that I might not be so fortunate in another situation.

I never told anyone. Not until now.

As I look back at that naïve young woman, I wonder… I think I was so surprised and shocked that I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. Had he followed through on his original plan, what would I have done? I don’t know…but probably nothing. I would have thought that I had done something wrong…would have been scared of what my parents (and my church) would have thought. I doubt that I would have filed charges. I think I would have probably tried to forget it…as I forgot the rest of the experience until now.

Do I remember his name? Oh yeah. Do I remember what he looked like? Oh yeah. Do I remember the weather? Oh yeah. Do I remember other details? Not specifically.

So do I believe women who make allegations but who don’t remember all the details? Oh yeah. I was fortunate in that X–for whatever reason–changed his mind. Many others were not as fortunate.