Thoughts from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

I was born and grew up as a privileged white child. I struggle to learn whether I have grown. I wonder whether people who didn’t grow up in the South during the 1940s and 1950s understand our relationship with folks of other races. I understand that I was privileged, but I also saw my grandparents (who were born less than 25 years after the civil war) treat African Americans with love and respect (even though it was tinged with paternalism).

On Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I sent my two grown sons this note:

“Today, as I look at the two of you, I see two guys who are loving, and able, and who also don’t seem to have any prejudices – gender-based, racial, sexual, or anything else. You might harbor feelings of superiority about other people, but I never see you acting those feelings out.

“I know that I, personally, think twice when I am in a group of the “other”, sometimes with fear of black people, sometimes with disgust, sometimes with revulsion. I admit that I sometimes have those feelings, but I try never to let them show.

 “I don’t remember ever talking to either of you about open acceptance of ALL people, but apparently you picked it up by osmosis, or something.

 “Can you tell me what I did right to make you into the accepting men you are today? I really want to know.”

They sent me the following notes:

From Bill:

“It is a bit of lead by example…

“It is a bit of nurture and nature…

“You and Dad, rarely used terms of derision, especially on a group level…if ever it was related to a single person and even then a single action or situation…you often did, by the choices you made in how you spoke about people as well as to people…you often did make it a point to be humble and to honor the person across from you or in your realm…I can’t remember a time that you stated specifically that _______ is good or bad…more in the manner in which y’all carried yourselves especially when others were specifically rude or condescending or mean or ugly to you…this was an extension of how mama and papa were…it is the very embodiment of unconditional love for all things, all humanity, each other and ourselves…being humble and engaging with our talents and always giving, even at our own expense…that God is watching, that our thoughts and actions will come back to us, be they good, bad or indifferent and that often the worst is the latter…

“In a time that favors rhetoric, y’all provided actionable examples and enough verbal direction to clearly articulate a course of action and pathway to living in this way.”

And from Ray:

“I’ve been mulling over this since I received your email.  

  1. I would say you taught us true Christian values of respect and caring. 
  2. I learned that no group is all good or bad. That meant it was never true to say or even think racist things. That carried over to all stuff.
  3. I learned that I was a minority, too. Sometimes a minority of one but a minority. If I didn’t like being treated or thought of badly, I shouldn’t do it to others. Sort of an extension to the Golden Rule. 
  4. We came from a diverse sub group of society. I learned the only thing not tolerated was intolerance. The military was hardly perfect but it made tolerance of people a principle and not a lofty goal.  I’m maybe over simplifying this one. 
  5. We travelled, and were exposed to other cultures and values. We saw firsthand the values of diversity and inclusion.
  6. I was taught to avoid hateful people and ideas. To challenge and correct even if it made me an outsider, and to walk away, in protest, when I couldn’t change them. (It took getting out on my own to fully see this one.)
  7. You did teach us not to take ourselves too seriously. To be self-deprecating and by doing so to recognize the stupidity prejudices feed on.  You taught us not to be stupid. 

“These are not school taught lessons. They were character lessons observed and valued because you, our parents, valued them.  You and dad talked about why the stereotypes were bad and how to see through them. But in the end, it was the fact you practiced what you preached, that was the lesson.”

“I’m tired of being around unhappy people”

Somebody posted that on Facebook today. I understand, believe me. Unhappy people make me sad, and unhappy, too.

But, unfortunately, I don’t have blinders on.

I see the poor blamed for their poverty.

I see immigrants blamed for wanting to escape corruption in their own countries.

I see hungry people being demeaned when they try to access food – FOOD.

I see our government spending obscene amounts of money on weapons of war against our neighbors.

I will see people dying because they can’t afford their medications or a visit to the doctor.

I see people living on the streets.

I see privately owned prisons and “detention facilities” getting rich by warehousing people.

I see people in cities being made homeless by the effects of global warming.

I see young people who would desperately love more education being denied it because they don’t have funds.

I’m sorry, I can’t just whine about wishing everyone around me was happy. I have to speak out when I see injustice. I have to march, and make phone calls, and send emails and text messages, and nag, and point it out when I hear lies from elected officials or worse still from “nominal” Christians. I CAN NOT bury my head in the sand, and complain when other people are unhappy. I have to find out why they are unhappy, and I have to help them solve whatever problems they may have. 

30 Days of Thankfulness – 11/11/17

For the month of November, I’m going to try to include gratitude in all my posts (and post every day.)

Today is Veterans’ Day. I’m grateful for Big Al, and my father, and all the other folks who donned uniforms and went to war. They gave a portion of their lives in military service so that we can all live with basic human freedoms. I honor their patriotism and their courage.

 

30 Days of Thankfulness – 11/10/17

For the month of November, I’m going to try to include gratitude in all my posts (and post every day.)

 

Today I’m thankful that most people have access to affordable health care. Big Al and I have never had to worry about health care since he reentered the Air Force. That was one of the reasons he stayed in the military for 20 years – to get decent health care for life. It was not always that way. When we first married, we were both students and off any benefits from our parents. Of course, I got pregnant, so we paid for our first son on the installment plan. When he was two months old, I was diagnosed with gall bladder problems, and thanks to the intervention of my parents with our old family doctor, I was treated, including major surgery and a three-week stay in the hospital. Nevertheless, we paid my father back over three years. I’m grateful that he was able to pay those expenses and carry the loan for us, but consequently we started off several thousand dollars in the hole, and were never able to completely make it up. We eventually saved enough money to buy houses, and to retire, but knowing the time value of money makes me realize that’s one of the main reasons we always were a little short, and living just at the edge of being comfortable.

Now my kids are grown with kids of their own, and they’ve gone through periods of unemployment (as have most middle-aged people). During all those times, the thing I worried about most was their lack of health care insurance. So I thank God for the Affordable Care Act for all my loved ones.

30 Days of Thankfulness – 11/8/17

For the month of November, I’m going to try to include gratitude in all my posts (and post every day.)

 

Today, I’m grateful to be waking up in a world that is not eternally mired in distrust, hatred, bigotry, violence, racism, misogyny, sexism, or provincialism. All those things are still there in our society, but they’re no longer in the ascendency. I have real hope once again after a full year of stomach-churning disgust and terror. The election results last night in a small way did much to rout the forces of evil. Thanks be to God.

We have a new mayor in Tacoma – a woman of color. A transgendered woman was elected to the legislature in Virginia, defeating the self-proclaimed “homophobe-in-chief.” A progressive Democrat was elected to the Washington State Senate, giving progressives a solid block of three governorships, three senates, and three houses of representatives on the West Coast. Maybe we can begin to turn the tide against the forces who would destroy our beautiful planet with backwards climate thinking, and shrinking of our public lands and monuments.

The battle for the light is not done. We must remain vigilant. We must continue to work for the marginalized of our society. But there once again is a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

Spiritual Discipline for the Week – Receiving

Today in church, Pastor Sarah challenged us to practice the spiritual discipline of Receiving this week. We looked at the story of the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel. There are six versions of this story in the four gospels. Apparently the writers felt like it was important. There’s a theory that everybody really had food, but they were reluctant to share until the little boy offered his four loaves and two fish. This make sense. If you think you are the only person who has enough food for yourself, then it’s easy to be reluctant to share what you have with folks who have nothing. This is true today – the problem with hunger is not one of scarcity – it’s one of distribution. There is empirically enough food for every person on the planet to be fed. Just like there is enough money on the planet for every person to have $1,000,000.

But that’s probably not what this story is about. None of the writers tell the story that way. They tell the story from the point of view of the people who were hungry. They tell the story as a miracle. When we feel like we’re hungry or hurting or needing, we feel like we can’t possibly solve the problem by ourselves. We need more than we can provide. When despair overtakes us, we need more and we hide from that truth. It’s terrifying how much we need. There’s a miracle in asking for help. We have a lot to give, but we need to receive what’s being given first. What are you hungry for? What do you need to receive?

1.  Pray with your hands open and upturned this week. How does it feel? I’ve been doing this ever since I learned centering prayer. When I pray this way, I have learned not to want anything, not to ask for anything. I just open myself  to God, and to God’s working in my heart and soul.

2.  Say yes every time someone offers you help this week. I read this suggestion during church, and almost immediately I didn’t do it. I was carrying two plates of picnic food – one for my husband and one for myself – and someone offered to carry one for me. Did I accept the help? No! I said, “That’s fine, I can do it myself. Thanks anyway.” *Sigh* I’ve got a lot to work on with this one.

3. When you encounter a challenge, ask yourself: what am I being invited to receive from this situation? I’ll have to ponder this one. I know I am challenged to graciously accept thanks or praise. I’ll definitely work on that this week.

 

Spiritual Discipline for the Week – Rest

Today in church, Pastor Sarah challenged us to practice the spiritual discipline of Rest this week. With all the strife and turmoil in the world right now, it’s going to be difficult to practice REST. There are still people who are hungry, still people who are living in terror, still people who need all the help they can get, still people being injured because of the color of their skin, or because of their beliefs. How can I possibly rest when all that is going on in the world.

But she reminded us that when the 5000 were fed, it was Jesus who did it. When the blind man could see, it was Jesus who healed him. Jesus told his disciples to rest – Jesus himself rested. We all need to reconnect with our strength – God alone!

1.  Find somewhere where you can be alone. Sit and do nothing while you’re there. The picture is one of my favorite places to sit and rest. I watch the ducks (sometimes there are ducklings). I feel the sun on my face. I daydream.

2.  Say no to something this week. I’m entertaining my sister for a week, so I’m saying no to lots of things I regularly do. Church work is going to have to get along without me. My resistance work will still be here when I return. I’m mostly going to be unplugged from social media and the news.

3. Take a nap. Or, sit by a window and just stare for a little while. I already practice this every morning as I air-dry after my shower. This is my time to admire the flowers, the trees, and birds.