You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught


Last night I went to an Iftar celebration. It was sponsored by the Greater Boston Muslim Health Initiative – a group that periodically meets to focus on specific health needs of the Muslim community in the area. It was an eclectic group of people, each of us with strengths in different areas, community members and advocates.

And of course – Nabra’s death came up. You may not know the story. Nabra Hassanen was a 17 year-old who lived in Northern Virginia. Early on Sunday morning, Nabra prematurely lost her life to a man filled with rage and bent on destroying life. She was assaulted and beaten with a bat, her body left in a pond to be found by law enforcement a few hours later.

Nabra had celebrated a Ramadan meal with friends and was on her way to the mosque with the same group of friends when the incident occurred.

Seventeen. Muslim. A young woman. A person of color. Now dead.

A death like this makes no sense – indeed it is put into the album for the unexplainable. Is it road rage? Is it a hate crime? No matter what you call it, it won’t bring Nabra’s life back. She’s gone – gone way too soon.

A song in the old musical South Pacific unwillingly goes through my head:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Taught to be afraid. Taught to hate. Taught to kill. Taught to think of people as less than. Because when you are carefully taught these things, you can treat people as you like without conscience or remorse. 

What might our world look like if we were taught to see the image of God in each person? If we were aware of how bound together we are in our life journey? What might it look like if we saw people as God sees them – beloved and worthy? If we changed our worldview from glorifying the individual to humbly loving collective humanity.

My heart weeps for Nabra’s family and community. This assault must feel so big and so awful, so personal during the month of Ramadan.

My heart also weeps for the cancer of prejudice and racism in our society, that we are so carefully taught to despise and hate, without even being aware. 

And even as I write this, I know I am not innocent. For any time I ignore others, anytime I dismiss another as unworthy, I’m doing the same thing. The consequences are less, the action and heart attitude is the same. When we deem people as unworthy, we can do whatever we like to them. 

How can we change this societal narrative? How can we begin to see ourselves as integrally connected, bound together in this journey? Your grief is my grief, your sin is my sin, your joy my joy, your burdens, my burdens. 

How can we rid ourselves of what we have been carefully taught and soften our hearts? 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, monasticism is alive and well. Contrary to what many believe, monks and nuns do not merely seclude themselves from the world. Instead, they align themselves with the world through prayer. They pray for the world. They are “intentional in living this mystery of our mystical unity and responsibility.”*

St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “and what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of merciful men pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy that grubs his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear if or see any injury or slight suffering of anything in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually…” 

What more is there to say, but that God would “unteach” us that which we have been carefully taught; that he would give us hearts of mercy instead of stone. 

And that we would take seriously our mystical connection and our mutual responsibility and act upon it. 

*Scott Cairns in The End of Suffering

World Refugee Day – #withrefugees

Every year, June 20th is a day set aside to remember the millions of refugees and displaced people in our world. But it’s not just a day to remember – it’s also a day to think about what we can collectively and individually do about the refugee crisis. 

So in today’s post I want to pose a couple of questions: 

  1. What can we do to overcome apathy or fear? 
  2. What specific things in your community could you do to welcome refugees. 
  3. How can we change some of the common narratives, that are not based on fact, that marginalize refugees? 

Today will you #standwithrefugees? 

For more information on refugees, click here

Source: UNHCR World Refugee Day

On Perspective Taking

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One of the best things about the Families in Global Transition Conference this past week was the diversity of perspectives from around the world. While all of us had an deep interest in living between worlds, we all come to it with different perspectives.

Perspective taking – it’s something I think about a lot. Below is a short video where I talk about perspective taking. Enjoy, and please add your comments on what you think it takes to hear the other side.

On Perspective Taking from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

Dear Seema: The Politics of Prevention

 

Note: Seema Verma is President Trump’s nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the United States.

Dear Seema,

I’m a Registered Nurse who works in Boston, Massachusetts. I have witnessed first-hand what it is like for people to go without insurance, to delay preventive health screening only to find out that cancer is a far more expensive problem.

There are not a lot of things that make my proverbial blood boil, but reducing access to preventive healthcare, including maternity benefits, does. It makes me so angry I can’t see straight.

Look, I get it. Health care is expensive. Someone has to pay for it. But everyone bears the burden of an unhealthy society and while the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) was not perfect, it began to put some policies in place that have been needed for a long time.

I come to this not from any political party line. I am a proudly independent voter – in fact, prouder by the day that I don’t buy into that assanine system called “two party.” I also live in Massachusetts where a Republican governor put health care reform as a top priority over 8 years ago and we are slowly reaping the benefits.

 

When, at your confirmation hearing, you mentioned that coverage for maternity benefits should be optional, I shook my head in disbelief.

Optional? Optional? I had to repeat it to myself to believe that you actually said it. The argument goes that if you’re a man or too old to get pregnant, then why should you have to pay for someone to have a baby? The lack of logic and understanding in that idea astounds me! The logical conclusion is that I shouldn’t have to pay for any of the choices that others make. So, by your logic, I shouldn’t have to pay for the business man who has a heart attack and needs bypass surgery. After all, I wasn’t the one who ate and drank too much. It was him.

Maternity benefits are an essential part of a healthy society. Maternity benefits speak to the value of family and children, they provide essential care for a future generation.

As Linda Blumberg, a senior fellow at the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Women says: “We buy insurance for uncertainty and to spread the costs of care across a broad population so that when something comes up, that person has adequate coverage to meet their needs,”  But insurance is not designed to be an  “a la carte approach”. “Women don’t need prostate cancer screening, but they pay for the coverage anyway.”

When as a nation did we allow politics to co-opt our health, to feed us misinformation about insurance and that terror-producing term ‘socialized medicine’? Truth is the term ‘socialized medicine’ is a made up phrase. It was first heard in the early 1900’s but came into wide use when the American Medical Association fought against a national health insurance plan proposed by President Truman. It conjured images of a hammer and sickle approach to health care that would lead us down the slippery slope to communism. That was in 1947 – and it was a public relations coup, for in the six and a half decades since that time we have allowed the term to rule us, to be thrown around willy nilly to produce fear and anger, obnoxious and ignorant voices leading the way.

Here’s what happens when you let politics coopt prevention: 

A breast cancer lump ulcerates and eats away the flesh of a breast; a cervical lesion, easily removed, grows and turns into a completely preventable cancer; a gnawing indigestion and bloated feeling turns into cancer eating away at your colon – fully preventable had screening taken place early in the disease process. You know what else happens when politics coopts prevention? Abortion rates, already far too high, go up. You can’t have it both ways – you can’t want abortion rates to go down and yet reject the notion of maternity care and birthcontrol coverage.

Preventive health is not about being Republican or Democrat or Independent or Green Party or Libertarian. Preventive health is about the health of a society as a whole; it is about being human, living in a broken world where illness and death and “pre-existing” conditions are a reality. Preventive health and being sick is not about politics. When will we in the United States get that?

What you should want to do in your tenure is make the Affordable Care Act better! You should want to expand on it and leave a legacy that puts Obama Care into the water. You should want to make a name for yourself as a person who makes health care great, not just tolerable.

Instead, I’m shaking my head and saying: “What in the name of Sam Hill is she thinking?” 

C’mon Seema! Be a Woman. Stand up for what is right. 

 

I am Not Muslim: On Identiy Confusion Solidarity

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During the weekend, an “I am a Muslim too” rally took place in New York City at Times Square. A picture of the event shows a large crowd gathered, all mouths opened in unison. A couple of white women are front and center, holding signs of a woman in a hijab made up of stars and stripes – a poster courtesy of the talented Shepard Fairey that has gained popularity from sea to shining sea in the past month. I will spare you and not get into how problematic it feels to create a hijab out of the American flag – that’s another conversation.

For now, I want to focus on the rally. I did not participate in the rally and I’m shaking my head at what I consider the shallow acceptance of the claim:”I am Muslim too.”

Actually, I am not Muslim. I grew up with Muslims as my friends and aunties. I was cared for by Muslim women and learned from them. I went on to raise my children to live and love a Muslim country and the people who surrounded us. Muslims cared for my children when they were small. They were our friends, our neighbors, our babysitters. I continue to count Muslim women as some of my closest friends. But I am not Muslim.

And the grey-haired woman in the forefront of the picture I saw wearing a statue of liberty tiara? I am 99.9% sure that she is not Muslim either.

I am not in favor of participating in identity confusion solidarity. And that’s what this particular demonstration felt like. It felt like a shallow way of showing support. 

By contrast, I had no problem promoting and marching in a pro-immigrant march a couple of weeks ago. The message felt completely different.  It was solidarity without identity confusion.

To say I am a Muslim means that I accept the truth claims of Islam. To say I am a Muslim means that I accept an identity that is far bigger than a sign on poster board. I do not share the identity and I do not share the truth claims of Islam, just as my Muslim friends do not share the truth claims of Christianity. There are many commonalities, many things that can bind us together as friends and neighbors, but there are also key differences.

Why do I have to chant “I am Muslim too!” to show solidarity with my Muslim friends?  There has to be a better way. 

In the past two years I have had the privilege of getting to know the Muslim community in the greater Boston area. I have been doing a health project with foreign-born Muslim women and through it I have been welcomed into several of the many Muslim communities in the area. I have shared meals with Pakistani, Iranian, Syrian, and Somali women. I have been invited to hear their views on health care and learn from them more about how public health can better serve them. I have been to mosques and to homes. The connections and friendships that I have made are a testament to the generosity of the Muslim community.

For me to say “I am Muslim too” feels like it’s an insult to the resilience and experience of the community.

It doesn’t feel like solidarity. Just like it would feel like I was insulting the Black community if I held a sign saying “I am Black too.” Because I’m not black. We cannot assume that we know what the experience of another is just because we march with big signs. I have no clue what it is like to have to flee a country and know I can never go back. I have no clue what it is like to face prejudice because of my skin color. How on earth would I know what it feels like to be concerned for my sons because of their skin color?  I have no clue what it is like to be attacked because I wear hijab. These are experiences that I cannot claim as my own. 

What I can claim is to want to support the community in ways that are lasting and sustainable. What I can claim is a desire to know the community better, to invite people into friendship and connection. What I can claim is to be learning more about my own privilege and how that can be used for good or for ill.

As I looked at pictures from the march this weekend, I wondered how many of the people present actually had Muslim friends. I wondered how many have actually invited people into their homes to share a meal, to share a conversation. I wondered how we can take the obvious energy and time that went into shouting “I am Muslim too” and turn it into something that could help the Muslim community in the long-term.

So – no, I am not Muslim and I don’t believe that this kind of solidarity is helpful for the long-term. I don’t believe that identity confusion will help my Muslim friends. But, because I place high value on my Christian faith, I will do whatever I can in my small spheres of influence to support a community that I love.

A Statement on Life

I am pro-life. I love babies and mamas. I love ultrasounds that show us the beauty of that baby, perfectly safe and growing in the womb.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro-healthcare. I am a nurse, and I have witnessed first hand what it is to have a patient walk in to a clinic with late-stage breast cancer, because she didn’t have money for a check up. I am pro birthcontrol, knowing that it decreases teen pregnancy and helps women to be able to plan their families.

Because I am pro-life, I am pro women’s right to have paid sick leave. I am pro life, so I am pro flexible work schedules and better options for those raising children.

I am pro-life, and because I am pro-life, and I know how many people have been killed by guns in this nation we call civilized, I am desperate for better measures to determine who gets guns, and why they get them. I am pro-life, and so I am against the death penalty. The words from Matthew 5, echoed and expanded by Gandhi “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” have been shown to be true over and over again.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am pro justice in the Middle East and long for people to realize the atrocities that Palestinians have gone through since 1948.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life, I am for refugees being settled where they no longer have to fear, where they can build new homes and new lives. I am for immigrants, who leave places they love and go through the long and lonely process of moving to a new country, because they want to give their children and grandchildren a better future.

I am pro-life. Because I am pro-life I long for garbage-free green spaces in the cities of the world, and oceans where people can swim and where our beautiful sea-life can flourish. Because I am pro-life, I want children in cities to grow up free of asthma from the mold that grows unchecked in poor housing. Because I am pro-life, I want fresh foods available in food deserts, and safe streets for walking. Because I am pro-life, I long for functional families, where children grow up loved and disciplined.

I am pro-life, and so I am pro caring for the elderly and loving them, making sure they are recognized as important members of our society. I am pro-life, and so I am pro child – every child, not just those who are beautiful, and smart, and athletic. I am pro child who will struggle with learning until the day they die. I am pro child with Downs, who makes the world a better and kinder place. I am pro help for the parent who is loving and caring for a child who doesn’t fit into a normal pattern of development.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the hungry to be fed, the wounded to be healed, the broken-hearted to be mended.

I am pro-life, and so I long for the day when all life will be restored, when tears will be wiped away and God will heal the cracks of our broken world.

But until that day, I will pray for courage and tenacity to live the way I believe. 

The Echo Chamber of Social Media

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I have been caught in the echo chamber of social media for a long time, but the last few months it has become significantly worse. All around me people rise up, whether on Twitter, Facebook or comments, letting everyone know their strongly held opinions.

But nothing is original.

Everyone is echoing everyone else. As is usually the case, there are two sides and both are extremes. Nuanced opinion and thinking outside the box? That doesn’t happen in echo chambers.

Every once in a while, the echoes collide, creating a palpable dissonance, and then the echoes go their separate ways, making sure they land with what and who is most comfortable. No one ever changes their minds in an echo chamber. We change our minds when we connect over shared bread and real relationships.

Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.

This echo chamber is bad for our health. I’m convinced of it. I’m convinced that future research will show an increase in ulcers, heart disease, depression, and other stress related illness based on our being unable to turn off the chatter, remove ourselves from the echo chamber.

The echo chamber is even worse for our souls. My soul was in bad shape last week and it was directly related to the social media echo chamber. Because too many echoes create chaos. Information and beliefs are amplified out of proportion to what I can handle.

I am as guilty as anyone, probably more so. I participate in the echo chamber, getting caught up until my head aches from the sounds reverberating around me. Until I am so tired of the sound of my voice and my own opinion that I want to scream.

How do I separate myself?

It’s simple, but really hard. I turn it off. I turn off the echo chamber and I dive into real life and real relationships.So since last week, that is what I have done. The likes or dislikes of social media, the sharing of often useless information, the over abundance of opinions — I had to separate myself so that I could breathe, so I could think clearly. More importantly, I needed to hear God. When you are surrounded by such a cacophony of echoes, you can’t hear yourself, much less God.

Not surprisingly, only a week in to the separation and I can think more clearly. I get home and listen to Mozart and drink a London Fog. I read articles from all sides that I want to read, not those that are stuck in my Facebook face. I pray in ways that I can’t pray when I am surrounded by echoes.

I will not stay off line for long. I have good connections on social media and I know it can be used in great ways. Separating myself in this way is helping me see how I can better use social media when I do return.

But for now, the echo chamber has been banished from my heart and my soul, and I am a healthier person.

[And just in case you’re wondering how I posted this since I have supposedly left Facebook for a time, I have a little secret – I linked accounts so that it would automatically post.]

She’s an Angry Elf

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Elf is a well-loved film about a man who thinks he’s a Christmas elf. If you know the movie, you are probably smiling right now. If not, then you are shaking your head and wondering where this is going. Stay with me for a bit, I’ll explain.

There is a point in the film where Buddy, the man-elf, bursts into a business meeting at a publishing company. At that meeting, he  unfortunately and unknowingly, but also humorously,insults a well-known creator of children’s books.

As the man gets angrier and angrier, Buddy makes the understatement of the movie “He’s an angry elf!” 

Today I’m an angry elf. I was on the subway in Boston enjoying the sounds of languages from around the world. I recognized Haitian, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and English. These are not tones or sounds that alienate me. Instead, I feel completely at home. I am not intimidated and I don’t care that I don’t understand – though I do try and follow the conversations in Arabic and Hindi.

So I decided to put my happy feelings onto that both hated and loved medium – Facebook. I wrote this:

Sitting on the subway in Boston listening to conversations all around me in Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian, and English. This is America.

It was a happy, what I thought was a non-political post. But in our world of divisions and politics, it wasn’t perceived the way I intended. Instead, someone questioned the legality of the people on the subway — those that I was listening to.

And – whether right or wrong – I felt angry. Then, the angrier I got, the more I found to be angry about.

My friends – I am an angry elf. 

I have written below a “Woe to us” piece. I say ‘us’ because for every sin I see in others, I have five more. There are times when I think I should be silent and shut up; times when I need to sit back and pray more. And right after I publish this piece? That will be a time when I need to sit back and pray more. But right now, I need to speak up.

Woe to us who support foreign missions and pray for those across the sea, but don’t invite those who are foreign to share our bread and drink our tea. 

Woe to us who think that our skin color gives us a special dispensation of grace.

Woe to us who spend money on Angel Tree and Christmas Boxes, and yet hate the people who receive them. 

Woe to us who defend evil and dress it in riches and expensive clothing. 

Woe to us who make our nations and leaders into gods and idols, and bow and pledge our souls to those idols. 

Woe to us who hold truth in our hearts, but never hold it up as a mirror to convict us. 

Woe to us who grow fat with with the Word, while others are starving. 

Woe to us – when we withhold grace, when we bask in self-righteousness, when we see ourselves as better than others. 

Woe to me – the angry elf. For I must repent. And I don’t want to. 

May God save us from ourselves. 

And a Happy U.S. Thanksgiving.

To add a lighter note – my friend Karen reminded me of some of the best lines in the film. 

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.”

 “This place reminds me of Santa’s Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”

Rambling Thoughts on Confronting an Idol

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I called my mom before the election with one specific question:

“Mom, when did American politics get mixed up with Christianity?”

I really wanted to know. I didn’t grow up in the United States and throughout my childhood, my parents voted via absentee ballots. I remember political discussions about the U.S. taking place every four years, where my mom and dad would have at least one heated discussion about “their” candidate. 95% of the time, their votes cancelled each other. Never do I remember either one of them talking about which was the better “Christian” choice.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I have read that it was when the Moral Majority became a thing. Jerry Falwell and others connected their politics and their faith.”

This was something I escaped during childhood and beyond into my college years. I was far more concerned about the Iranian revolution and the war in Lebanon than I was about U.S. politics, although I would come to learn that U.S foreign policy was critically important when it came to parts of the world that I loved.

But the point is: I never got caught up in the melding of Christianity with the earthly kingdom of the United States of America.

I think its time to confront the idol. America and American exceptionalism have become idols and when we make anything into an idol we need to confess and repent.

“….Nothing is more alien to the Old and New Testaments than to sacralize the unholy, or divinize material things. To regard secular America as some kind of Messiah nation, or geo-political golden calf, is sheer idolatry.”*

When rationalizing America as a “nation blessed by God’ the arguments given are generally material and military and use the book of Deuteronomy as a guide.

Material: America is ‘blessed’ by God because we have more wealth than other countries, because we have houses and bank accounts and cars and college price tags of $160,000 and a plethora of other things unknown to much of the world. How often have you heard someone talk about being “Blessed” with a house? That’s wonderful – but if they had an apartment would they be less blessed? Does the blessing include cathedral ceilings, designer paint, and a pool in the back yard? Is the family of four living in 3000 square feet more blessed than the family of six living in 1000? Or the refugee family living in a tent? We’re on shaky ground when we use material goods as our litmus test for blessing.

Military: America is blessed by God because we have a strong military. Really? Are we using “Blessing” in the correct way?

The book of Matthew speaks a lot about blessing in a chapter called “The Beatitudes” literally meaning “blessings”. As I read it I realize yet again that Jesus again excels at turning things upside down, challenging the crowd who is familiar with an Old Testament view of blessing.  Not once is a strong military or material wealth mentioned. Rather we have a dire list of adjectives that include poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, peace makers, and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted….At this point I begin to feel uncomfortable. Are we through yet? No, there’s more – we end the ‘blessings’ portion with more persecution and false accusation.

The list of blessings is long, and drones, bombs, military intelligence, American exceptionalism, Wall Street, bonds, bank accounts, investments are not included.

But the blessings do include peacemaking.

They include seeking righteousness.

They include mourning.

And so I come to this conclusion: America is not blessed. In fact, we are in need of deep, deep healing. 

One of the ways we heal is by confronting the idol of Christian America and American exceptionalism. It has already begun to crumble before us and yet we aren’t paying attention. 

Nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every political system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about politics on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport. 

If I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.

Maybe you voted for Trump. Maybe you voted for Hillary. Maybe you found either choice untenable. Regardless, if you believe in a kingdom that is not of this world then I challenge you that your job is to build bridges with those with whom you disagree. Your job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. Your job, your mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all political systems will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal our eyesight. May he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

*First Things – “Is America Blessed by God”

Blogger’s note: You may recognize some of these posts – I took from a couple different blogs that I have done in the past.

On #InternationalDayofTolerance – Fight for Asia Bibi!

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I’m angry. 

A Christian Pakistani woman is sentenced to death in Pakistan. Her crime? She is allegedly accused of insulting Islam after a group of Muslim women did not want her sharing the same water bowl as them. She offered them water and they refused stating it was “unclean.”

I wish this was hyperbole. I wish that I didn’t have to write this piece. But I’m angry. I’m angry that calls for tolerance don’t include the likes of Asia Bibi. I’m angry that Christians, Muslims, or non religious people who care about human rights are not standing up for this woman, insisting on her release. I’m angry that to date, very few people have signed the petition requesting her release.

Her life is clearly of no value to the United Nations, to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to Human Rights Watch international, and Amnesty International. This should be headline news every single day until she is released. This should not be allowed to happen. The last article I have seen on this from Amnesty International is from 2014. That’s ludicrous for a group that purports to care about human rights.

Asia Bibi has been in jail since 2009. That is seven years!  But obviously, her life as a woman, as a minority, and as a Christian is not something that people who generally fight for these things are willing to fight for. 

Today is the International Day of Tolerance – and yet I saw nothing about Asia Bibi. I saw a lot of rainbows, I saw hands held ad nauseum across the globe. But no one is speaking out for her.

My question is: Why? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance include the likes of Asia Bibi? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance look at the plight of Christian women throughout Pakistan?

They have no voice. They have no rights. There are many like Asia Bibi who day after day are discriminated against without anyone paying attention.

Christian friends – will you speak up?

Muslim friends – I will fight for you, and speak up for your rights any day, hour, or minute of the week in this country because it is the right thing to do. I care deeply for you and your community. You are my friends,neighbors, and colleagues. Will you speak up for Asia Bibi.

Other friends – will you speak up and sign a petition for a woman who has nothing and no one fighting for her?

Here is what I am going to ask you to do:

  1. Sign this petition
  2. Email others to sign the petition.
  3. Share this post

Here is the summary: 

Asia Bibi is a Christian wife and mother awaiting execution in a Pakistani prison. She was accused by Muslim coworkers of blasphemy. More than 150,000 Christians in Pakistan signed a petition protesting the injustice against Asia and other Christians in their nation. Now there’s a way for people around the world to add their voices to those Pakistani voices, through an online petition at http://www.CallForMercy.com.

I just signed the petition, and I hope that you’ll click on the link and sign as well. As of today, 702,760 people have signed. The goal is to have one million signatures to deliver to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC.

Please add your name and speak out on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Folks, this is 2016 and a woman is sentenced to death because of a poorly constructed blasphemy law. We can’t sit silent on this International Day of Tolerance. 

Blogger’s note: The bigger issue is the huge problem with the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan which has come under severe attack but nothing has yet been done to change it.

The Welcome Prayer

I have to admit I’m really struggling this week. I’m angry at some recent news from an organization close to my heart. I’m disgusted by the political situation in the country where I live. I’m horrified by the people that excuse sexual indecency and the language of predatory sexual assault. I’m embarrassed by those Christians in leadership that refuse to remove their blinders and truly see what’s happening.

Meanwhile racial imbalance continues to effect communities across this country. More Syrians fleeing their ravaged homeland have died this week in trying to escape. Much of Haiti’s infrastructure has been erased by fierce winds and waters. Over 800 people died in the wreckage. Thailand’s beloved King has died leaving thousands mourning and in uncertain transition. Yemen is still reeling from the double bomb attack at a funeral last week which left 140 people dead and over 500 injured. The situation in Kashmir is heated and precarious. The Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, once again on trail for blasphemy, has had her case adjourned for the time being with the threat of false accusation still hanging over her.

It’s too much. Never before have I been so tempted to cancel everything, stay in my pajamas, and curl up in my bed for a few days. I’m heart sick and worn out from it all. I want to make friends with denial and ignorance. I’m done.

I was awake early this morning working on a different blog post. It was an angry rant full of passion and fury. As I was madly pounding at my keyboard I realized that the piece had taken on a life of it’s own. The words were nearly typing themselves. Anger was colouring in ugly shades outside the lines of reason and wisdom. I pushed my chair away from my desk, poured myself another cup of coffee and paused.

Leanna Tankersley tucks into her very insightful book, Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding, a chapter entitled, Welcoming It All. In it she includes the Welcome Prayer as written by Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk:

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

Tankersley goes on to say, “I love these lines, this concept, this practice. The Welcoming Prayer takes us out of our heads and into a space where we stop, even for a very few minutes, our analyzing and figuring. We relinquish our strategies and allow God to work within us, in the place where we are far more malleable than our mind. We are opening ourselves up to a divine encounter which is never a bad idea.” (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. pg 200).

Admittedly it’s a hard prayer to pray today. I don’t want to “let go of my desire for power or control.” I don’t want to “let go of my desire to change any situation.” I’m rattling at my chain for change and decency and solutions and justice. But, if I’m honest, the rattling isn’t doing my soul any good. I’m worked up and out of shape. I’m a mess. I’d love to escape and avoid and hide.

Even as I sip my now lukewarm coffee, I think there might be a meaningful way to separate myself from the mess of it all. It strikes me that there’s a profound difference between burying my head in the sand and lifting my eyes up to see above the muck. Both refuse to focus on the crud and horror of what’s happening. But one gives me permission to welcome what God is doing. Looking up allows me to make eye contact with a broader perspective and with Hope itself! If I look up I see above the landscape, I see the horizon, wide and eternal, stretching beyond what I now know, making way for what’s to come.

Perhaps today is a day to breath deeply: in and out. I need to remember what is true. I need to be faithful to what I cannot see. I need to call to mind the presence of Christ and the Living Hope that dwells in me. I need to make space inside to choose to welcome what God wants to do in me.

My husband Lowell often quotes from the novel, Brothers K, by David James Duncan. There’s a scene in the novel where an old baseball coach is advising a young batter, “He said there are two ways for a hitter to get the pitch he wants. The simplest way is not to want any pitch in particular. But the best way, he said—which sounds almost the same, but is really very different—is to want the very pitch you’re gonna get. Including the one you can handle. But also the one that’s going to strike you out looking. And even the one that’s maybe gonna bounce off your head.”

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today—even the pitch that’s going to strike me out, even the one that’s going to hit me in the head and knock me out— because I know weirdly enough it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions—including trying to sort out the world’s wounds. It’s not easy but I’m going to try to let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself and the anger and angst I feel when I can’t. Oh God please help me open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

 

And Lady Liberty Weeps….

 

statue-of-liberty-v3

“Give me your tired, your poor,” she says.

Ah, but first we must verify income and employability; we must make sure these people fit with “our way of life.” We must make sure these creatures are not leeches who steal jobs from those who really belong.

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,”

Make sure the huddled masses have clear lungs and negative TB tests, their HIV status is negative, and that no communicable diseases will be passed on to our current healthy, chronic-disease-free citizens.

“The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

But first, these wretches must fill out forms in triplicate or learn to swim. UNHCR, Homeland security and the Office of Refugee Resettlement must approve said forms. I heard that one lucky wretch has an interview before 2022.

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,”

Wait. What’s that you say? They’re Muslim? Muslims need not apply. And are they really that destitute? Come on! They have cell phones!

“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Which door? Ah! That one – the one that says ‘Trump Towers.’

And so the tired and poor, the huddled masses yearning for freedom, the wretched refuse, the homeless and displaced, the refugee turn away, eyes vacant and heads shaking, trying desperately to find another door.

And Lady Liberty bows her head and weeps.

Good Stories Behind Bad Headlines

The headlines chase us down, taunting us with their urgency, telling us to how to respond. They never stop. We may sleep, but the headlines don’t. 

And they don’t want us to – not really. The person who is first to share or tweet a story gets the prize.

Behind the bad headlines are some poignant stories of reconciliation and redemption. They don’t get attention, but they should. Condemnation is newsworthy. Redemption is not. Miscommunication is newsworthy. Communicating across boundaries and finding a point of connection is not. Hate is newsworthy. Love is not.

Today I want to remind us of three good stories that are pushed under bad headlines. They are not all recent, but they are newsworthy all the same. 

The first comes from a picture that I first saw on social media. In her own words, a woman describes how a stranger, a police officer, gave her a moment of hope. I’ve included the picture here, because it’s best in her words.

story of hope

The second story comes from a few years ago when Chick-fil-A dominated the headlines. People were being urged to boycott the company because the chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, had made some public comments against same sex marriage. For a week, this fed the news. Anger and hatred on both sides erupted. Chick-fil-a was branded, forever it seemed. What people don’t know is what happened later.

While the U.S. was embroiled in the controversy, Dan Cathy telephoned the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the group that launched a multi-million dollar campaign against Chick-fil-A, Shane Windmeyer. This was the first of what would be many phone calls and meetings between these two followed by other executives of Chick-fil-A. It resulted in an unlikely, but amazing, friendship between Dan Cathy and Shane Windmeyer. In Windmeyer’s own words:

“Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people…….I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that happens when we know each other better. I hope that our nation’s political leaders and campus leaders might do the same.”

It is an amazing story of friendship, forged despite deep differences in beliefs. It’s a story of hope behind a headline that breeded controversy across social media.

The third story comes a Christian college, and headlines that painted the college as Islamophobic. The headlines were based on an incident where a professor at the college donned hijab to identify with Muslims. The administration of the college reacted and the professor and Wheaton College “parted ways.” I have my own opinion of this college professor deciding to don a hijab, but that’s not what this article is about. The headlines of the Chicago Tribune are loud and clear: Wheaton College demonstrators launch fast to spotlight Islamophobia. 

The story behind the scenes looks quite different. Months before the incident, Wheaton College students and professors were meeting with Muslim leaders in the area. They were forming friendships and having dialogue with Muslims, seeking to better understand each other.

A Wheaton professor writes an outstanding article about this in the magazine First Things:

“I will admit to losing hope that the media can hear any of this. My colleague Noah Toly and I related nearly all of these facts to a reporter who, to our absolute bafflement, could still not shake the assumption that we were “Islamophobic.” But it really doesn’t matter if we’re misunderstood. We will keep engaging our Muslim neighbors, because we’re not just meeting with them in order to be recognized for doing so. We’re doing so because we believe in the God who does not just have love—but in the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—he is love. We believe one person of that Trinity, Jesus, took on human flesh, was crucified and rose from the dead. And in the mystery of his risen life he is with those who are maligned and marginalized and misunderstood—and so we see our Lord Jesus in the faces of our Muslim neighbors. To hate you, therefore, would be to hate him.”

So, what do these three stories tell me? What should they tell all of us?

Perhaps we need to step back before we react. Perhaps we need to give the headlines some time, so that other stories can emerge. Stories that defy the headlines and give us some hope. 

 

Really?

 

Toddler falls over railing at zoo into gorilla area.

Gorilla killed to save toddler.

Public outcry from impulse culture addicts.

Parent crucified by public opinion. Have to delete all social media, go into hiding. Told they are the ones who should have been killed.

Meanwhile,in Syria:

NOTE: Quote from Kay Bruner in The Curious Case of the Outraged Amygdala. Kay is author of the book As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir available on Amazon. You can find her blog here. 

Stop Dismissing Millennials

Last week, my husband and I had dinner with some friends. We ate fish tacos, caught up on each other’s lives and laughed until we couldn’t breathe.

Our friends are a lot younger than us. They are millennials – that group of people who are analyzed, written about, and talked about.  And I realize that I need to speak up about something.

This conversation on millennials being lazy and disrespectful, lacking in everything from common sense to brain cells has to stop. It’s gone on too long and it damages all of us.

I like millennials. They are my kids and friends of my kids. They are my nieces and nephews. They are my cousin’s children. They are my colleagues and students. They are my friends. (To be honest, we probably have more friends who are millennials than we do friends our own age – so there could be something very, very wrong with us….but that’s another subject.)

Of course they drive me crazy at times. So do people who are my age.

Millennials have grown up in a rough world. A world that on the one hand tells them they can be anything and have it all, and on the other hand saddles them with school debt and confusion. They have watched those of us who are older use and abuse social media just as much as they use and abuse it. Civil discourse was disintegrating when they were little, and has all but disappeared.

We need to stop making millennials into a single story. Contrary to what the media and others have led us to believe, millennials are creative, donate goods and services, and are worried about the state of the world and how they can make a difference. They value family and will work to create community.

Here’s what I want to say to those of us who are reading the articles and shaking our heads in despair about the next generation:

  1. Shaking our heads at the ‘younger’ generation is an ‘old people’ activity. Don’t do it. They need us and we need them. It’s called the “Circle of Life.” Go see Lion King – then let’s talk.
  2. It’s okay to disagree, but in our disagreement we need to be careful that we don’t dismiss people. There is inherent value in every human being, even when we disagree with them.
  3. Make friends with millennials – like real friends. Have people over for dinner, learn to laugh and talk with them. Relationship changes everything.
  4. Remember when you get really angry and want to lash out at someone who is younger – they are someone else’s son or daughter. The person who serves you coffee has a mom – and almost assuredly that mom loves them deeply and worries that people like you and I will treat them with contempt.
  5. Do what you can to make the life of a millennial a bit easier – that may be giving them an unexpectedly big tip, it may mean encouraging them to leave a job, or stay at a job. It may mean sending them money – just because you know they have college debt that will last ‘to infinity and beyond.’
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone who is younger than you are. Most probably, the millennials in your life are tech savvy and can teach you things that will make your life so much easier. Let them teach you. You will both benefit.
  7. For decades, older people have used the words “Well, when I was young….!” The problem is, it usually prefaces a comment that says we are superior. That is not an effective way to build bridges with people who are younger.
  8. Enjoy millennials – don’t let labels get in the way of enjoying the stories and lives of those in your life.

Now here are my words to the millennials in the room.

  1. You are a targeted generation – people want to look and point and make assumptions. Don’t let the Debbie Downers steal your spirit. It’s easy for the nay sayers in the world to have the loudest voices. Don’t let them.
  2. Find ways to work around the system.  Do not let rules prevent you from doing something that you know will work and work well.
  3. Be nice to the mean people.
  4. Work to defeat ageism. Don’t dismiss those who are older just because they may dismiss you. We need each other. I’ll say what I said to the non millennials: It’s okay to disagree, but don’t dismiss.
  5. Find your community but also make friends with people who are completely different then you in looks, beliefs, and values.
  6. You are the multitasking generation. So go on Facebook, go on Twitter…just don’t stay there. Your communication on social media is not a good substitute for the real thing.
  7. The grey buildings where you may begin your jobs will make you color blind. Don’t let it happen! Keep on seeing the color in your world.
  8. Remember to always operate by this question: “Who do I want to like me when I am 80?” It is an excellent life guide.
  9. You are the Harry Potter generation. You know what Dementors are and you know what the Dementor’s Kiss does. Don’t let the world’s Dementors steal your heart and soul. Guard both of them.
  10. Take care of your eyes and your soul. You’ll want them both to last until the end of your days.

This post is dedicated to some of my favorite millennials: My children, my nieces and nephews, Caitlin, Mary, Tayo, Ashley, Amanda, Amel, Caroline, Mason, Lara, Eric, Tina, Erik, and so many more – you know who you are! 

Unequal Treatment

These past two days I’ve been at a summit on race and equity. Specifically, A Call to Government and Community. The conference goes across spheres and participants represent housing, justice, immigration, education, the arts, and health. It has been full of stories and ideas –ideas that I agree with and ideas that I don’t agree with. Overall, I feel privileged to be a part of this conversation.

Taking ownership for my part in racism is not easy. There are times when I think “Well, I didn’t do that” or “I don’t think that.” But, as difficult as it may be for me to admit it, I am part of a bigger picture that benefits white people.

In a piece called “When white people don’t know they’re being white” Jody Fernando says this:

When white people don’t recognize how our position of cultural dominance influences us – when we don’t know that we’re being white – we can be like bulls in a china shop, throwing everything in our wake askew without even realizing what we’ve done. For us, this understanding begins with learning a perspective of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment.  May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.

Part of what the last two days have been then, is a soul-searching on what this means to me personally and professionally.

*******

In 2002 the Institute of Medicine released a report called Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care.

The report was a landmark study that documented the disparities that racial and ethnic minorities experience even when their insurance and income are the same. Prior to the study, many thought that the narrative of disparities verbalized by both patients and health professionals was just that – a narrative. Or they thought that it was about health care access. The conventional wisdom was that if you give a person health care access the disparities will go away.

In fact, they found this to be categorically false. In compiling hundreds of studies across the nation, documented disparities were found in almost every area of health care. The results were absolutely clear: Racial and ethnic minorities get poorer quality of health care then white people. Here are just a few of the disparities that were found:

Cover of "Unequal Treatment: Confronting ...

  • Receipt of appropriate cancer treatment
  • Pain control – Minority patients more likely to be under-medicated for pain than white patients (65% vs. 50%), more likely to have severity of pain underestimated by physicians
  • Mental health services – “plagued by disparities.” One study indicates 44% of White English speakers to 27.8% of Blacks received treatment after a diagnosis of depression.
  • Heart procedures – including bypass surgery
  • Diabetes – from diagnosis to amputations disparities were found in diabetic care
  • Pediatric Care – Less satisfaction, cite poorer communication, perception of lack of response

It is a thorough report that shows many factors contributing to these disparities, some of which are stereotypes, unconscious bias, and lack of cultural competency. The report gave a number of recommendations and also demonstrated that we have a long way to go to provide equal treatment for the minority populations in the United States.

And that brings me to Tuskegee. 

Between 1932 and 1972 the public health service of the United States enrolled 600 poor, black men into a study to document the effects of untreated syphilis. Approximately 400 of these men had syphilis before the study began. The men enrolled thought they were receiving free health care from the government and they were promised food, burial insurance, and medical care for participating in the study. They were merely told they had ‘bad blood’ and were never treated for the disease. In the early 1940’s Penicillin had become a standard and effective method of treatment for the disease. None of these men received penicillin, in fact – treatment was never offered for 40 years. The study is known as the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

It has been 42 years since Tuskegee and to this day, it is difficult to get African Americans to participate in research studies. It does not take a rocket scientist to wonder why.

It was 30 years after Tuskegee that the report Unequal Treatment was released.

“For a serious offense,” writes psychiatrist Aaron Lazare “such as a betrayal of trust or public humiliation, an immediate apology misses the mark. It demeans the event. Hours, days, weeks, or even months may go by before both parties can integrate the meaning of the event and its impact on the relationship. The care and thought that goes into such apologies dignifies the exchange. For offenses whose impact is calamitous to individuals, groups, or nations, the apology may be delayed by decades and offered by another generation.”*

************

I am a white woman. Anyone who reads this blog and has seen any pictures knows this. I did not grow up in this country and did not think about race – ever. I was raised as a privileged white minority in a country that still had memories of British occupation where whites ruled and were regularly sent to the head of the line. I now work as a nurse in public health with minority populations and regularly confront issues of racism and unequal treatment in health care.

The disparities that happen in health care have historically been wrong. The disparities that occur these many years later are wrong. There is no other word for it. They are wrong and a corporate apology is in order.

And I want to apologize. It doesn’t matter that I was not involved with Tuskegee. It doesn’t matter that I was not one of the care givers in any of the studies documented for Unequal Treatment. What matters is that I am part of a health care system that has routinely discriminated against people because of their color; a system that has treated people unequally based on their outward appearance, not their presenting symptoms.

To use some of the words of Aaron Lazare who I quoted above – these offenses were calamitous to individuals, to groups, to our nation as a whole.

In Notes from No Man’s Land, author Eula Biss talks about being a teacher at a public school in Harlem. A young boy a foot taller than her hissed at her in the hallway. As she sat in the principal’s office, waiting while the principal went to “hunt him down,” another kid stepped into the office. She writes the following about the interaction:

“I’m sorry I sexually harassed you.” I stared at him. He wasn’t the same kid. “But it wasn’t you.” I said finally. “Yeah,” he said as he pulled down his baseball cap and started to walk away, “but it might have been my cousin.”*

So today, as the conversation on race and justice is at the forefront of my mind, I borrow from the last sentence of Eula’s book. I apologize for the unequal treatment that is a present part of our health system. I apologize for Tuskegee. Because no – it wasn’t me — but it might have been my cousin.

*As quoted in Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss page 189

Note: this blog post was adapted from a piece written in February, 2014

Beware: the Language of Heaven is Hell for the Passenger

no arabic

While living in the Middle East, we would often quote Islamic scholars and proclaim that we were “learning the language that we’ll all speak in Heaven.” We were not joking. With its rich phrases and flow, Arabic is a beautiful language.

After five minutes in a taxi in an Arabic speaking country, the beautiful sound of Oum Kalthoum’s voice will lull you into relaxing and enjoying all that surrounds you. You would never say a mere “Good Morning” in Arabic; rather you would say “Morning of Goodness!” to which another would respond “Morning of Light!”  You don’t say the mean-spirited “She talks too much!” Rather, you would say the descriptive “She swallowed a radio!”  And nothing so plain as “He’s crazy!” Instead, you would say “His brain is like a shoe!”

Twenty six different countries speak Arabic. It is a language that is centuries old, spoken by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is used in worship by both Christians and Muslims. It is a language with a history of narrative and poetry, a language of song and speech, a language of expression and beauty. While sometimes I shake my head at the impossibilitiy of the ‘ta marbuta’ and the fatḥah(فتحة) /a/, ـِ a kasrah (كسرة) /i/ or ـُ a ḍammah (ضمة) /u/, I absolutely love this language and I will continue trying to learn it until the day I die. 

Evidently, not all think as I do. Earlier this month, a student from University of California, Berkeley was removed from a flight. A passenger heard the student speaking Arabic and reported him. As reported by the New York Times, the student was from Iraq and had been to an event where the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had spoken. The student called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about this event. Unfortunately for the student, an arguably sheltered, bigoted, and clueless fellow passenger headed to the front of the airplane to report him. The rest, we might say, is history.

When I first read about this story, I thought I had no words. Anyone who reads CAB knows that I speak out about these things regularly. And there are times when I want to hear other voices, I want others to do the talking, the writing, to ask the hard questions. But there is a dearth of Western, White People willing to speak into the current climate of fear and xenophobia that creeps like a cancer through our country. This climate is perpetuated by ill-mannered politicians who vow to police Muslim neighborhoods; who ‘one-up’ each other on who can be the most bigoted.

When did we decide that Arabic was the language of terrorists? When did the 295 million Arabic speakers in the world become suspect? A passenger made an assumption based on limited knowledge and world view. An airline heeded that assumption. Instead of questioning her further, asking her if she knew Arabic, finding out more, a decision was made by the airline to remove a man because of the language he spoke. Deanna Othman says this in an article on Alternet: “Southwest Airlines has set a precedent with its action on that flight. It has validated the insidious paranoia that has become rampant in our society. It will unjustly lead Muslims and Arabic speakers to rethink their language of choice when boarding a plane.” 

This should trouble, if not terrify, all of us. It’s one thing when a passenger is misinformed and foolish. It is entirely another when a corporate entity asks no questions and falls into the reactionary fear that causes poor decisions. 

Because here is the truth: 

Unbreakable stereotypes, xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and fear of the one who is ‘other’ – all of these are far more dangerous than any language will ever be.

To you I pose these questions: When did fear begin to replace common sense? How can we change this? What can we do indivdually and/or collectively to respond? إن شاء الله [Insa’Allah] we will find a way to move forward together.

Donald Trump, Walt Kowalski and Hope for Transformation

What happens when a bitter racist is transformed?

In the movie Gran Torino, Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood) is a bitter old man living out his years in a neighborhood that has changed from working-class white to Hmong and Chinese.  He does not like it and makes no pretense of civility and no apology for being an open racist. No one is safe from this behavior, particularly the Hmong mother who lives next door and who is victim to Kowalski’s growling and racial slurs every time they happen to be on the porch at the same time.

In the course of the movie, his character changes and he gradually makes peace with the neighborhood, getting to know the teenagers who live next door and becoming both friend and protector. A scene showing him at a Hmong feast eating food he has never seen before (and still makes no pretense of liking) is a beautiful image of the grudging respect he is gaining for these neighbors.

As I have watched areas throughout the United States change, I have seen a lot of Walt Kowalskis and a lot of ‘Wanda’ Kowalskis; men and women at odds with neighborhoods in which they have deep ties.  They grieve for a neighborhood that was and struggle with the neighborhood that is.  The words ‘us and them‘ are present in their speech and they are angry and fearful. The world is a scary place to them. Some of them move through a slow process of change; for others it’s too difficult.  The movie initially portrays the tension and hatred of a man at odds with his changing neighborhood, moves on to the slow process of change and ultimately brings the audience to an act of deep love and ultimate sacrifice as Walt serves as a human shield to protect his neighbors.  Walt gives up his life in the process of protecting people that he used to hate. He gradually accepts and, dare I say, loves the community that surrounds him.

Communities in the United States have changed and they will continue to change.  A community health center that I work with saw three thousand patients from 40 different countries and 60 different language groups in  a 6-month time period. That is just one of many examples of our changing world. As the world continues to move closer, the transformation process that Walt Kowalski undergoes in the two-hour film is worth watching and modeling. He changes because he gets to know the people who surround him, he begins to see beyond visual differences to what is underneath. He begins to see the “other” as human. 

Although the movie is eight years old, I have thought about it a lot in past months and I want to watch it again. Just below the surface in America is a deep fear and dislike, often hatred, for the one who is other. The campaign of a presidential hopeful is built on promoting these fears across the country. Over and over, we hear people say that they like Donald Trump because he “tells it like it is.” But what he “tells” is deeply troubling. His rhetoric is about walls and isolation, about spewing racism and bigotry, about hating anything that is not like him. 

Consider this from a NY Times op-ed piece by Timothy Egan: With media complicity, Trump has unleashed the beast that has long resided not far from the American hearth, from those who started a Civil War to preserve the right to enslave a fellow human to the Know-Nothing mobs who burned Irish-Catholic churches out of fear of immigrants.When high school kids waved a picture of Trump while shouting “Build a wall” at students from a heavily Hispanic school during a basketball game in Indiana last week, they were exhaling Trump’s sulfurous vapors. They know exactly what he stands for.

Donald Trump is Walt Kowalski and he has found favor with many. Would that he would sit down and watch the movie so he can learn what transformation looks like, what it is to learn to love people and ultimately give your life for them.

I have little hope that Trump will do that. Nothing so far has touched his conscience and moved him to apologize for anything he has said. But what about those thousands who have the same thoughts but are not as high profile?  In the character of Walt Kowalski we see hope for transformation and change. Is it just Hollywood, or can we hope for the same redemptive stories in our own neighborhoods? I hope with all my heart we can.

Note: Some of this content comes from one of my earliest blog posts. I revisited it as I was thinking about much of what I have heard in past weeks.