They’re not just pieces of material…

Warning: The pictures included with this post are graphic and disturbing.

Several times recently I’ve seen posts saying that individuals who post pictures with the Confederate or Nazi flags aren’t necessarily racist. Sometimes the rationale has been that it’s “just a hick thing” or that those flags are just pieces of material…so why are people getting so bent out of shape?

Well, they’re not just pieces of material.

They represent very real ideologies that see a specific group of people as “subhuman” or “less than.” They are stark reminders of genocide…not centuries ago, but recent.

There are people alive today whose grandparents were slaves. There are people alive today who remember lynchings (lynchings were still taking place in 1981!). These are not abstract events; they are part of families’ histories…and the Confederate flag reminds them of this:

 

See the source image

A slave showing the scars of beatings on his back

Crowd Surrounds the Smoking Corpse of a Lynching Victim : Nachrichtenfoto

Jesse Washington, 17 years old, burned alive while an enthusiastic crowd looked on

Laura Nelson, lynched after being raped by numerous men, her body (along with her 14-year-old son’s) hung from a bridge and a postcard made of her lynching

There are people alive today who survived Nazi concentration camps–and who lost most (if not all) of their families in the camps. And the Nazi flag reminds us of this:

Boy In The Warsaw Ghetto

Nazi soldiers capturing Jews in the Warsaw ghetto

Mass Grave

A mass grave at Bergen-Belsen

Four emaciated survivors sit outside in the newly liberated Ebensee concentration camp.

The original Signal Corps caption reads, 
"EBENSEE CONCENTRATION CAMP.
In the Austrian Alps at Ebensee, Austria, units of the 80th Div, of the Third U...  found one of the largest and most brutal German concentration camps shortly bef...  of the war in Europe.  The camp contained about 60,000 prisoners of 25 different ... all in various stages of starvation.   The camp reputedly was used for scientifi... on the prisoners, who were used as live guinea pigs.  Conditions for the living ... bably brutal and filthy.  The men were forced to sleep four to a narrow bunk in ... barracs.  They died at the rate of 2000 a week, and their bodies were disposed o... ready for the crematory.  The Germans had fled before they had time to burn them.  ... living are being given care and nourishing food.  When they are strong enough to ... they will be returned to their homes.
These photos were taken May 7 and 8, 1945.

PNA                                                            EA 66316
THIS PHOTO SHOWS: These living skeletons are young boys.  
U.S. Signal Corps Photo ETO-HQ-45-46147
SERVICED BY LONDON OWI (INNER FULL)
CERTIFIED AS PASSED BY SHAEF CENSOR.

Concentration camp survivors

Whether you like it or not, when you fly either of these flags (or give the Nazi salute), you are giving tacit support to those ideologies. They cannot be separated from those flags.

And so they are not just pieces of material. Your use of them and your reaction to them sends a significant message about who you are and what you believe.

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.

…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.

I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

What would I do?

I sit here in my comfortable, safe home–with enough money to pay my bills, enough food to provide me the nutrition I need, clothing that is suitable for my needs.

I have children and grandchildren whom I love dearly. They are able to attend school and learn in safety. They are not afraid to go out and play…they do not have to fear gunfire in their neighborhoods.

I know that there are other areas around where I live where that is not true. I am aware that there are many who are homeless. Some have mental health issues. Others are on the streets because of unwise choices they have made in the past. Some are there because they choose to be.

I also know that there are neighborhoods that are not as safe as mine–where children are in danger from gunfire, even in their own homes. There are neighborhoods with gangs that make it dangerous.

And yet…

There is not the same systemic type of violence and danger that many of those who are trying to get to the United States are fleeing. There is not the same kind of systemic poverty that causes parents to despair of being able to keep their children alive with proper nutrition.

If I lived in one of those countries–a country where my children were in danger of being kidnapped and killed so their organs could be sold…a country where my entire family was in danger daily of being killed by gangs…a country where my daughters were daily potential rape victims…a country where I saw my children dying because I could not give them the food they desperately needed–what would I do?

If I knew there was a country where there was the possibility of a new life where my children could grow up safer than where they now were–even with the problems in that country…what would I do?

If I knew that there was a country that for years had welcomed people fleeing danger–even though their acceptance was not perfect–and if I knew that that country had a symbol with a poem that said this:

“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!”

–what would I do?

If I knew that the trip was incredibly dangerous and there was a chance that either I or my family…or all of us…would not make it, would I still try it? I don’t know for sure, because I don’t live in those conditions. But I think I would. I think I would try my hardest to save my children…to give them opportunities to live and learn.

And so, while I am aware that there are conditions in my own country that need fixing, I am appalled at the way we are treating those who are trying to find something better for themselves and their families. We (our government) bears some responsibility for creating the conditions that have destabilized their countries and caused the situations they are fleeing. We cannot close our eyes to that.

My faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us, not just individually, but as a church. Revelation that was shared with the church in 2007 seems particularly appropriate for today:

Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

 

Angry…and disappointed

I’ve been trying to listen to my feelings this last week, trying to understand just how I feel–and why. Some days I’ve been more angry…some more disappointed. So I guess that if you asked me how I’m feeling now, I’d have to say it’s a combination of the two–and which one takes precedence depends on what I am reading and seeing in the news on any given day.

Why? I’m not even sure where to start…there are so many things mixed up together.

But…here’s at least a beginning list (not in any particular order). You may not agree with all my issues–but please don’t tell me I shouldn’t feel this way! Many of these issues will affect my grandkids and great-grandkids…nieces and nephews. I have a right to feel angry and disappointed.

  • After so many shootings we still can’t agree on common-sense ways to deal with gun violence. We can’t even agree that gun violence is a problem! And so our children continue to go to school, worried about whether they will survive another day.
  • We can’t agree on the need for mental health help. There aren’t enough beds for people needing help…and too much stigma about asking for help.
  • The after-effects of slavery are still very active among us–but many of us are not willing to acknowledge the long-term effects that we’re still dealing with. Particularly those of us who have had the privileges that go with being white find it difficult to empathize with people of color.
  • I remember as a child believing that the police were my friends. I still (mostly) believe that–but I am also concerned when I see so many white police being given a pass because “they feared for their lives” and shot a person of color…but persons of color are far too often not given the same pass in similar situations.
  • We have demonized those who are seeking to escape violence by coming to America, a land that used to be seen as a land of promise. Now that promise seems to be more that we will separate families with no plans on how to reunite them…that we will refuse to acknowledge our role in creating those situations that they are fleeing.
  • Our environment is in danger, and yet we seem to blithely ignore the danger signs. Those who speak out for change are ridiculed–and our current administration is determined to roll back all the actions that were previously taken to help deal with the situation.
  • Speaking of our current administration, I am appalled at the gratuitous cruelty that is expressed by so many in it. I am also appalled that many of those who have been named to run parts of our government are individuals who have expressed determination to dismantle those very parts they are supposed to run!
  • I do not understand how individuals who call themselves followers of Jesus can continue to support a leader who believes himself to be above the law…whose morals are appalling…who doesn’t seem to be able to tell the truth if his life depended on it…who mocks and scorns those whom he sees as “less than” or different.
  • While I understand that we will not necessarily agree on the what/why someone is LGTBQ+, I do not understand the refusal to offer that community–a long-persecuted community–protections re: housing, jobs, and medical care.
  • I am appalled at the desire of white men to control women’s bodies…often (and obviously!) without knowing what they are talking about.
  • I hear many saying that they “value the sanctity of all life”–yet they are willing to possibly put women to death for having an abortion. They support the death penalty. They are unwilling to fund the programs that would help support those that they want to see born. It feels like they are pro-birth only, not pro-life.
  • White supremacy terrorist is on the rise in our country–but we are unwilling to call it by that name.

Is that enough? If I took more time, my list would be longer. These are just the constant concerns…the ones at the front of my mind.

I keep trying to find ways to build bridges…but I’m finding it harder.

I have many friends I love but who make statements and stand for things that seem antithetical to what I hear them saying they believe.

I honestly don’t know how much longer I can go on as I have.

I am feeling much more understanding of people like Martin Luther or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who found themselves pushed to a point where they felt they had no choice but to take a stand–regardless of the cost.

 

 

 

What is our future?

I grew up believing that our future was hopeful…that we were on the cusp of solving many of the problems our world faced. Elected officials might (and did!) disagree with each other on how to solve some of those problems, but they were willing to spend time in serious and honest discussion, trying to find ways to work together.

Now I’m not so sure.

  • I see an increase in saber-rattling.
  • I see distrust of science–and an almost fiendish delight in ignoring science to the point that we are in danger of destroying this planet that we live on.
  • I see an unwillingness to even engage in any kind of serious discussion–by any of us. We don’t seem to be willing to try to listen to each other, much less find ways in which we can work together to solve the significant problems that face us.
  • There is an increase in “I want mine and I don’t care what it does to anyone else or to the planet.”
  • White supremacy is on the rise, with its determination that all other races are “less than” and should be destroyed.
  • The rights of women to make decisions concerning their bodies and their health are being eroded by men who have no understanding of women’s health needs or how a woman’s body works.
  • Children–our precious future–are not being given the education they need and deserve to create a future of hope.
  • We denigrate and demean those who are members of faith traditions other than our own, unwilling to even try to understand their traditions while at the same time demanding that they conform to our own.
  • Families are often being torn apart through policies that are gratuitously cruel.
  • Members of minority groups (immigrants, LBGTQ+, people of color, disabled, single parents) are losing the protections that helped provide a positive future for them.
  • While we talk about extremism in other faith traditions, we seem unwilling to recognize it in our own.
  • We are destroying our environment. Multiple species are on the verge of extinction…and we don’t seem to care. CO2 levels are at an all-time high…and we laugh it off.
  • We are afraid of our diversity.

Is there still hope for us?

I think so…and these two quotes give me hope.

First, from Howard Zinn, a historian and playwright:

To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

But perhaps more importantly, this one from Anne Frank:

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.

What’s our future? It’s up to us.