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Surely, I’m going to write about Charlottesville. How could I not write about Charlottesville? How could anyone remain silent as evil surges through the streets; as so-called “Christians” claim not to hate anyone, while in the next breath asserting that they would never break bread with a person of color; as a woman is killed by Nazis on American soil?

I need to take a breath. I feel sick.

I feel sick when I reckon that 34% of this country stands with a guy who sees no difference between White Supremacists and those brave enough to stand up to them. I feel sick when I think of the lie of history behind those “beautiful statues” (mostly dedicated in the early 1900s, when Jim Crow laws started being enacted, and the rest in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was burgeoning). I feel sick when I think of the hate burning in the hearts of all of those polo-shirted white guys marching with their tiki torches, as if they were waylaid en route to a suburban barbecue.

I am heart-sore. Weary. Nauseated. And yet, I know how privileged I am — what must our black friends, our Jewish friends, be thinking and feeling? It makes me want to swoon into despair.

SueBe and Ruth, my co-bloggers, have been my lights this week, reminding me not to give into the darkness. To keep my candle lit so that others can add their own little lights to it, so maybe we can make a path through the darkness and into a better place. What would I do — what would any of us do — without the support of those who “get it,” who feel as we feel and recognize that what’s on the line isn’t about politics; it’s about good versus evil?

So, for everyone out there too sick and sad and sore to grab onto the life preserver of hope, let me be an outstretched hand. Good people still exist. They’re out there. Maybe they need to make a little more noise, but they’re out there.

And I love you, and I stand with you, and I will hold out my candle defiantly, no matter what occurs. We will not let hatred win. Because no matter which biblical excerpts some people mutilate in order to justify their racism, there is one that trumps (ha!) them all: “7 My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.8 Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 7-8)

Let love mend us. Amen!

When I saw this quote, it really hit home because of the language so many of us use without thinking.  Those people.  The Germans. The South. Republicans. Muslims. It is so easy to vilify the many because of the actions of the few.  

Then Charlottesville.

A handful of the cruel from here.  A handful from there.  Another couple from over this way. Throw ’em all together and what do you have?  A river of torches moving down the streets.  Riots.  Hatred galore.

Condemn cruelty.  Stand against the perpetrators.  But don’t use it to condemn a religion, a culture or a state.  There are those working to do good even there. And if a handful of us carrying the Light of Christ come together with another handful and a few from here and a few from there.  Christ’s Light will surely push back the darkness.

–SueBE

This quote by Arthur Ashe is one of my favorites.  Probably because I had a DIY mentality before DIY was a thing.  My mom always told me that even when I was little, she would tell me that something wouldn’t work X way and she’d look over to see me staring.  And staring. And staring.  She knew I was trying to work out a solution.

Not that I always had what I needed to solve the problem.  Sometimes I had to go my grandad.  Or my mom.  Or my dad.  Working together we had a whole different set of skills than I had working alone.

That’s something I have to remember as an adult.  God gave me talents and I need to use them.  When I do, I can accomplish quite a bit.  But God gave other people talents as well and they very often complement my own.  Working together?  We can do even more.

When I am faced with a task that is to great for me alone, I have to remember that one of the talents God gave me is the ability to ask for help.  What one cannot do alone, two or three or four may be needed to accomplish.

–SueBE

My, my, my. The Church Lady must be having a field day. I refer of course to the old Saturday Night Live sketches featuring Dana Carvey’s judgmental and oh-so pious authority on all that is good and evil. She was always quick to call out hypocrisy in the “whited sepulchers” who frequented her show. Such insight has never been as necessary as it is now.

America likes to think of itself as a Christian country, though religiously speaking, we’re actually mutts — a mix of everything, from Mormons to Sikhs. Yet those who project — and protect — this “Christian America” image most fiercely seem most in need of a reminder of what Christianity actually is.

There is no Christianity without Christ. And to know what Christianity is about, one only has to access the words and deeds of Christ. This is not a case of “what would Jesus do?” but “what did Jesus do?” He embraced the outcasts and told us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, a radical reversal of the current state of immigration. Jesus, tellingly, put no codas, no provisos, on his commands — no clauses like “only if they speak English” or “only if they have a good job.” Indeed, he seemed most concerned about those most on the outside, most in need of lifting up.

Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty (written, I hate to tell you, Mr. Miller, expressly for the Statue of Liberty) comes down hard on the side of the outsiders — and, consequently, the side of Christ. To stand in defiance of the huddled masses longing to breathe free is to stand in defiance of God.

Oh, I know. It’s hard to welcome the stranger. Strangers are scary precisely because they are strange to us. Is every immigrant a good person? No, but neither is every homegrown American. It is simpler to draw ourselves inward, to turn our backs on the “other” and “take care of our own.” Except who decides who is “our own” and who is not? Who was the “neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan?

I am not saying that everyone opposed to the welcoming of immigrants is a bad person. But neither is he or she following the precepts of Christ.

What I’m asking for is very simple: a little truth-telling. It’s time for a good scrub, America. Let’s wash out our mouths with soap and water and get down to brass tacks. Either we welcome strangers or we do not. Either we are Christian or we are not.

But we don’t get to have it both ways.

We human beings only have so much energy, so much focus, so much time.  And, at least with me, there is so much that I want to do.  No way I can do it all, so I have to pick and choose.

My office?  Disaster.  But I’ve written three books this year.

My garden?  Needs weeding but I volunteered at every swim meet except one.  This was my son’s last swim season so that was a big deal for me.

I feel the same way about causes.  My own focuses tend to be on social justice and the environment.

It isn’t easy and progress may not even be constant, but that’s okay.  It is totally worth the effort.

–SueBE

 

 

 

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? The difference between the two is often defined by the old “is the glass half full or half empty?” conundrum. Guess what? Turns out it doesn’t matter what you think about the glass. We are all, deep down, optimists, or we wouldn’t be here.

Reading the news can get you down. It does me, anyway. Just scanning the headlines convinces me that the world is a dark, ugly, little place full of small-minded, uneducated people who just want to watch the world burn and toast marshmallows on the flames. But the news doesn’t tell the whole truth. Not that the news is in any way “fake” — a phrase I detest — but simply that it cannot cover the complex entirety of the modern human condition. Even I can spot the better headline: “Man Kills Dozens” will always triumph over “Man Happily Distributes Free Lemonade and Hugs.”

But you turned up this morning for all of this news — bad and good (mostly bad) — didn’t you? You got out of bed. You put on your socks (or omitted them; it’s kind of too hot for socks). You gave your body fuel and opened your front door. Congratulations! You are officially an optimist. And pretty darned brave, to boot.

Do you think it takes more than just showing up to show courage? Maybe. But for any thinking person it’s more than enough. To watch bad things happen and still say, “You know what? I’m going out there anyway” is a testament to human resilience. After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve just pack it in and give up? Nope. Even though they’d lost access to unbridled happiness, they went on anyway. This kind of steel is precisely what God knew we would need to function in the world.

So if you’re here today, reading this, and just trying to bumble through life, I salute you. Thank you for continuing to take a chance on the world. Thank you for not giving up or giving in. The world needs you. I need you. Don’t give up. Despite what it says in the news or anywhere else, most of us are just like you. We’re trying. It is the stuff of superheroes, of saints. It is brave.

I rewatched the Hitchcock classic “Rope” last night. In it, two college friends kill an acquaintance just for jollies — or, more specifically, because they believe that intellectually superior people have the right to kill those who are inferior…that they are above morality and notions of right and wrong, which are conventions meant only for “common” people. James Stewart, as their former prep school headmaster, is aghast that they have made this decision: “Who made you God?” he asks them.

Who indeed? And yet, in smaller ways, we are all guilty of this type of judgmental thinking. Exhibit A: You are sitting in front of your computer reading about the latest political scandal. You are inwardly raging: How can this kind of malfeasance go unpunished? Or, alternately, why is this such a scandal when so-and-so (who I did not support) did the same/worse and went unpunished? Someone is getting away with something! Someone must be punished!

Who made us God? Before you demand perfect justice, examine yourself: Have you never broken the law, even in the tiniest way? Have you never jaywalked? Never ignored a traffic signal at three in the morning? Never taken something that wasn’t yours to take? Would you really want the full, scrupulous eye of the law to come down on you?

This is not to say that we should not seek justice, or that we should leave such things entirely to God. My caution is against fanaticism in all its forms. It is a reminder not to put ourselves above other people or allow ourselves to decide who is worthy and who is inferior. It is a call to humility and a reminder that we are all sinners, all of us steeped in sin. We must not point out the splinter in our brother’s eye while remaining indifferent to the plank in our own.

We’ve become so divided, culturally and politically speaking, that we actively call for violence against our “enemies” (I recently read a blog post comment that called for liberals to be “lined up and shot”) while seeking immunity for those we espouse, even going so far as gloating about our side being above the law somehow. No. This cannot be tolerated.

Instead, when you become angry at those you seek to judge, why not utter a prayer? “Heaven help us all,” has become my new mantra, and I mean it. Heaven help us not to succumb to the kind of overweening pride that allows us to pick and choose justice, that allows us to point fingers at others while hypocritically excusing the same sin in ourselves.

In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” a man obsessed with outing those he perceives as “guilty” keeps files on his neighbors, examining them for the slightest flaws. His mania becomes so great, he predicts that all of the guilty will suddenly shrink to three feet tall — and thus become instantly recognizable to the rest of humanity — at four o’clock that afternoon. What happens next? Not much, except that he himself shrinks to about three inches…and is instantly seized as prey by his own parrot.

Don’t be that guy. Because if we start sorting the populace into “them” and “us,” we are in for a world of hurt. In that case, heaven truly help us all.

People these days are scary. They’ve grown fangs and spew poison. Get on their wrong side (easy to do) and you could be punished in a number of vituperative and terrifying ways. There is no shame. There are no moral boundaries. There is only internet anonymity and anger.

I read an article by a journalist opining this very same theory. One of the comments on his article was simply “you suck.” Ah! Well met, my friend! Your brilliant repartee reveals you as a man of wit and ingenuity. You are the Sam Johnson — nay, the Mark Twain! — of our times. Sadly, considering the level of discourse these days, that last statement may very well be true.

On the other side of the equation: SueBe’s and Ruthie’s posts this week, celebrating friendship, specifically the friendship of the three of us that led to the creation of this blog. It’s true; we deeply love and care about one another. Also true — we have never met in person. Just the other week, SueBe mentioned something about being short, and I was dumbfounded. All this time, I’d been picturing her tall. I’ll say it again: We’ve been working together for the better part of ten years, yet we’ve never actually hugged. Or eaten a meal together. Or heard one another’s voices, except on the phone.

Yet our bond persists, will persist, through the tumult and turbulence life hands us. This essentially boils down to a choice: We chose each other. We continue to choose each other. It’s what every great friendship, every great relationship, is made of. And it may be the one and only cure for the pollution that swirls around us politically and spiritually.

I once taught a mini-course on “The Company of Women” — both the book by Mary Gordon and the idea that enduring friendships enable us to become our fullest selves, allow us to thrive in the most polluted of atmospheres. I still believe this is true. All I have to do is think of my fellow bloggers to know it is so. This blog — and its posts by my fellow bloggers — has become a haven for me. When the world seems just too awful to continue to breathe in, I come here. I listen to SueBe and Ruth. I feel better.

Let us cultivate our own fresh air. Let us seek out those of us who are willing to be patient, to listen and to love. Let us keep them close to us. When darkness closes in, let us cling to them.

Let us not let pollution overtake us. Take our hands. Join us.

Recently, our church book club read The Lemon Tree.  I can’t say that it is one of my favorite books, but it is an important book.  Why?  Because it tells a story all too few of us know.  It tells about the creation of Israel from the point of view of the Palestinians.  Unlike the narratives we hear so often, Israel is not the hero.  Not that the nation is demonized but this is a much more complete picture.

The book tells about driving Palestinian families from their homes.  It tells about explosives made to tempt children to pick them up.  Think about that one for a minute.  It tells about the demonization of a people, the Palestinians.

Now, don’t start.  I know my history.  I know about PLO atrocities.  But I also know both sides of the story.  I don’t look at just the parts that make this group of people easy to hate.

The eerie part of all of this was that the vast majority of people who read the book thought it was biased.  “It’s anti-Israeli!  It doesn’t tell about the things those Muslims did!”

Yes, yes, it did.  But it is so much easier to hold on to the misconceptions and narrow perspectives that allow us to hate.

This sort of reaction?  This is why I write about race.  It is why I write about diversity in religion.  It is why I write about tolerance as well as ethnocentrism.

This may not be a story that is comfortable for many of us.  But until we can see the whole reality without making excuses for it, we cannot truly be peacemakers.  And isn’t that the blessing we’d all love to rain down on this Earth?

–SueBE

 

This is a tough one.  From my local community to book club meetings, I hear people talking about wanting peace, wanting things to be better.  Then in the next breath they want to put someone “in their place.”

Peace.  It has to be more than a buzz word.  And it has to be for everyone in every place.

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