Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.

War? What war?

Over this past weekend, I’ve seen social media go crazy…again. Around this time of year especially, someone gets upset over someone’s corporate decision and declares that there is “a war on Christmas/Christianity.” Really? Just because one company (which I don’t patronize, by the way, because I don’t care for coffee) has changed the design of their cup, somehow that’s negating the Christmas season…

Let’s get over it, folks.

In the first place, companies that have locations worldwide have different seasons to deal with. Yes, in America there are snowflakes and snowmen in December. But in Australia, there is sunshine and time at the beaches!

In the second place, there are real wars that affect real people in much more significant ways than simply being handed a cup whose design and/or color you disagree with.

Yes, there are places in the world where those who are Christian are suffering for their faith…facing torture or death.

There are places where people struggle every day just to survive…who are desperate to create a better future for their children.

There are people struggling every day to break free of the bondage of addictions of various types…and sometimes–when they most need the support of a faith community–they find themselves unwelcome.

There are people whose sexual orientation or sexual identity make others uncomfortable–and far too often they are kicked out of their families or their faith communities…forced out and left alone.

If there is a war on Christianity, unfortunately it often seems to be waged by those who call themselves Christian. The One who led the way met with those who were on the fringes…broke bread with them…welcomed children…healed those who were sick…offered love to those who were rejected…challenged the status quo.

Let’s stop getting so upset about things that don’t really matter–like the color of a coffee cup–and…for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus the Christ…let’s spend time feeding the sick…visiting the sick and imprisoned…providing support for those who are trying to break free of addictions…

Matthew 25:31-45

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

Gone with the Wind….?

A while back–before the most recent shooting and the furor over what the Confederate flag symbolizes–I decided it was time to re-read one of the books considered an American classic…Gone with the Wind. It had been many years since I had read it or seen the movie, so I didn’t have strong memories of it. I requested the electronic version at my library, and it took a while before it became available…ironically about the time memories/history of the “Old South” were hitting the news.

I’ve been finding it difficult to read.

Not because it is poorly written. Far from it. Margaret Mitchell had a wonderful way with words. Her dialogue is realistic, her characters–her white ones–much more than cardboard caricatures, and the story draws you in.

But I find myself cringing at her portrayal of plantation life and the “happy darkies” before the war and the paternalistic view expressed by some of the characters with their doubts about whether or not the slaves could be trusted to take care of themselves if they were freed. And while the speech of the white characters is realistic, the “patter” she gives to the African-American characters portrays them in many ways as less than children.

Interestingly, the further I get into the book, the more I find myself comparing her portrayal to that found in the movie Glory, the story of the United States’ first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. That movie also deals with former slaves during the Civil War, but it treats them as real people, with the ability to become more than they had been allowed to under slavery.

The soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts are not perfect…far from it. But Col. Robert Gould Shaw expects them to become soldiers…believes they can…and they do. In one scene, he and his men are commanded to go on a foraging expedition with another regiment of former slave soldiers under the command of an officer who–even though a Yankee–treats them as Margaret Mitchell treats her African-American characters…as children who don’t have the potential of being any more than children and who need to be taken care of by superior whites.

While I enjoy the story of the “romance” between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, I am realizing just how deeply the paternalistic racism that Mitchell expressed has seeped into our society–and how the baggage from the Civil War still has not been dealt with.

Yet it must be. We have to be willing to take an honest look at ourselves and how we see “the other”, whatever our racial background., Until we are willing to have those difficult conversations, we will continue to be a divided country, still stuck in the 1860s in many ways.

I think we can do better than that.

What kind of Christian?

I’ve been thinking about this question for a while…what kind of Christian am I? what kind do I want to be?

There are many voices in our news today, loudly declaring their Christianity. But most of those voices do not reflect the kind of Christian I want to be. They seem to me to be hypocritical voices…proclaiming Christian values, but living otherwise. They proudly proclaim they are supporters of family values…while often they are on their second or third marriages…or have been caught exchanging sexual messages with someone other than their spouse. They loudly proclaim that women must have the babies they are carrying–regardless of how the child was conceived or whether the mother’s health is at risk–but cut programs that would help that child and parents after birth.

These same voices also seem to say that their religious values condone discrimination against those who are different…whether that difference is racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, political. They promote religious freedom–as long as what is desired agrees with their own understanding of religion. They fight against the declaration of “religious law” while not seeing the irony found in their desires to proclaim their own understanding of religious law for everyone.

If this is Christianity, then I am not a Christian. However, I am a follower of the one who was called the Christ.

Why?

There are a number of reasons. Perhaps the simplest is that I was born into this tradition…but that would not necessarily keep me in it. A more important one is the spiritual experiences I have had that have led me to this Jesus and the way he allows me to see God.

And a third is that I have seen–and read of–Christians whose words and actions match. Perhaps the best example I have seen are the Christians of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. For four years–from 1940-1944–these people, who would have had every right to turn their backs, instead provided refuge for about 5,000 people who otherwise would have been killed because they were Jewish. This wasn’t just one or two people who did what they thought was right…it was an entire community. If even one person had spoken out of turn, the entire community would have been destroyed. Instead, thousands of people were saved.

That is the kind of Christian I want to be…one who sees others through the eyes of love and acceptance rather than of fear of differences. I want to be the kind who lives out what this Jesus said when he was asked what the greatest commandment was.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them. (Matthew 22:37-40 The Message)

My brother’s keeper…

As the global community–and the United States in particular–struggle with how to respond to the situation in Syria, I find this statement from the Old Testament to keep resonating in my mind: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The simple answer to that question is yes. But then the challenge arises–just how does that play out?

If I am indeed my brother’s keeper, then I cannot ignore the abuse of the Syrian government in using nerve gas on its own citizens–men, women, and children. To do nothing is to leave the possibility open for another occurrence–if not by Assad, then by another dictator who feels the necessity to use it in order to prop up his government.

But what am I to do? Violence only seems to beget violence, and so I struggle with the idea that some kind of military reaction is the right solution. There is already so much violence in not only Syria but in that whole corner of the world. And neither side (if indeed there are only two sides) is completely innocent. Both the government and the rebels have made horrific choices in how they act.

My own government’s hands are not completely clean, either. We have had a history of supporting rulers who have perpetuated abuses against their own people because they supported us in some way…and then turning on them when either they stopped being malleable or when something better came along.

I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t think there is one. I only know that I–we…all of us–must struggle with the concept of what it means to be our brother’s keeper…and how to live it out in this world that has become so interconnected.

Defiance

We saw Defiance last night…what a powerful movie!

Yes, it’s violent–extremely violent. Unfortunately the violence was integral to the story–of our inhumanity towards each other.

It’s a true story–a story of Jewish survival during the Holocaust. But it’s more than that. It starts out as a simple story of survival–of three brothers who are not outstanding citizens of the community, but who survive the destruction of their village…and are determined to survive in the woods they are familiar with. As they begin their effort, they are joined by more and more Jews who are fleeing to a place of safety–and the story becomes more.

It’s a story of how a group of hunted people from all walks of life became a community. Living in conditions I can’t even imagine…constantly fearful of being discovered…faced with the prospect of having to flee at a moment’s notice…surrounded by enemies determined to exterminate them…they still came to understand the importance of pulling together into a community–of maintaining their humanity.

There are moments of humor…moments of pathos…times of faith questioning and arguing with God…and yet ultimately this is a movie that bears testimony of the will to survive that despite the worst we do to each other–and the incredible importance of community.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

My husband and I went to see this movie (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) last night…and I would highly recommend it. Just don’t take young children!

There are a couple of places in the film that I might take mild issue with the premise–or the way a situation is portrayed. But overall, it drew me in from the very beginning–drew me in, even though I had fear as to the way it was going to turn out.

Very briefly, it’s the story of Bruno, an 8-year-old German boy sometime in the early 1940s. He moves from Berlin to the countryside with his family because his father–a soldier–has received a major promotion to be in charge of a “camp.” Bruno makes friends with another 8-year-old boy on the other side of the fence in the camp. The movie deals with how this experience impacts the entire family.

One of the things I appreciated was that the characters were not caricatures like you often see in movies dealing with the Holocaust. You began to see how people could get drawn into horrendous situations… Yes, there is cruelty, but there is also humanity…and I think that’s what got to me so much.

The violence is not overt and in-your-face…and in some ways that makes it worse. At least it did for me, because my imagination can be quite vivid.

How does one turn away from evil when at first it doesn’t seem so bad?

And unfortunately, I can’t say that what occurred in the movie was just a historical event that took place before I was born. That type of seeing “the other” as an “it” instead of a human being is still going on.

When will we learn? When will we learn to see each other as Bruno sees Schmuel?