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Prayer vs fearBetween Thanksgiving being just around the corner and the Senate vote to limit Middle Eastern refugees, I’m sure we’ve all been doing a lot of soul searching.  It’s hard to be grateful when people make unjust decisions.

I understand this better as an adult than I did as a child. In the mid-197s when I was in grade school, another school district folded into ours and the impact was huge. I’m not sure how many elementary schools there were or any of the stats.  That’s not why it was a big deal.  It was the makeup of the district.  That’s a nice sanitary way of saying race.

My district was largely working class Catholics.  My family was the minority because we were Protestant.  Do I need to point it out?  The vast majority of us were also white.

The new part of the district was also working class. I suspect there were more Protestants than Catholics, but they were black.  Plans were immediately put into place to desegregate the combined districts.  K-4 would be taught on my side of the district.  5 and 6 would be bussed to the new part.

What was the school board thinking? People reacted strongly to this plan. Many people moved away. This may have been the beginning of white flight although no one used that phrase.

My parents talked to me about their decision to stay.  “God made us all. The white ones and the brown ones. They’re just as scared as you are.”

I found that hard to believe.  I had heard more than once that as soon as I got off the bus OVER THERE, I would get knifed. It’s just how those people are.  I wanted to believe my parents.  I really did.  But people were moving.  They were putting their kids in new schools. What did they know that my parents didn’t?

I was terrified when I got off the bus that first day. I’d love to say that I immediately had an epiphany, but I don’t remember my first day. It must have been pretty normal. I got to know my fellow students. These were the girls who taught me to turn double dutch. They tried to teach me to jump. Don’t blame them for my two left feet. They honed my jacks game. They taught me to sled on a piece of cardboard in a trash bag (easier to bring to school than a sled). This was also the first time I saw somebody stand up to a bully. I still remember him strutting across the playground behind the teacher. Sure, he was in trouble too but he’d done the right thing and no one could convince him otherwise.

My parents had done the right thing too. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know they prayed about it.

Back to today.  I wish that our Senate had made the tough decision but they caved in to fear.  Fortunately, you and I can still make a different decision. There are bullies out there.

I’m just grateful my parents taught me to go with God even when that choice doesn’t look safe. All too often, the danger is the product of our fevered imaginations.


In Carson McCullers’ play, “A Member of the Wedding,” young Frankie searches for the “we of me” — the people to whom she belongs, who will lift her up and help her soar to her highest heights. Maybe that’s what we’re all looking for. And maybe that’s what makes us break ourselves down into groups by ethnicity, skin color, religion, political affiliation and the like. We all want to find the we of us.

Often in pursuing this goal, we end up hurting others — the key word here being “others.” We reject those who are not the “we of us,” sometimes violently. It is what ISIS seems keen on doing. They do not seem to understand where this will lead them. Even if every “infidel” were wiped from the face of the earth, they would not stop killing; they would merely turn on their own. ISIS, if given what it claims it wants, would eat itself alive.

They are not the only ones. We base our exclusivity, our hatred, on the most random and outward of appearances. I find it worrying that in a season that celebrates the birth of a savior born to a Middle Eastern couple in search of a place to stay, many people are using the actions of a minority to support a decision not to welcome Middle Eastern refugees.

But don’t they see? Origin of birth, differences in faith, variations in skin color — none of these things should exclude belonging. In fact, if you believe that we all originated from a single pair of ancestors — a common Adam and Eve — then we are all related to one another in a very real way. They are we, and we are they. We are the we of us.

The best thing we can do in an often weary and wicked world is to hold out a hand, extend an open palm. Perhaps no one will take it. But maybe he will. And maybe that person will extend her own hand to another. And another, and another and another.

Small lights in the darkness don’t do much. But bring enough of them together and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all see clearly. We belong together. We belong to one another. Nothing — no one — can make that untrue.




Have a Mary Little Christmas

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