The Paradox of Unity and Justice

Last week, I posted “Trump or Love” believing that you cannot choose both.  I made the case that Trump’s rhetoric counters love. Jesus was for the poor, the marginalized, the weak and the oppressed. None of those descriptors fit Trump or the majority of his supporters. And it is often the marginalized, the weak, the outsider who is painted by Trump to be the enemy.

Last night, I was challenged to seek unity by avoiding what is divisive. It was a challenge for me because I have felt strongly of the need to speak out against Trump. Each divisive statement he has made that preys on the fears of Republicans at the expense of minority groups has increased my resolve to be clear about how dangerous Trump is. I know my opinions have made people uncomfortable as evidenced by the conversations and cold shoulders I have experienced as a result. Am I working against unity by speaking out for justice? This is the question that weighs heavily upon me now.

I am highly unhappy with politics in general. I think politics has gone the way of religion and education in our country – we are more concerned about protecting the systems we have than educating, inspiring, and empowering those we lead. The systems are antiquated and failing. I have friends and family who are wonderful teachers and pastors, but they operate in these systems that more often hold them back than help them move forward. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter because he was the only candidate asking inspiring and relevant questions. His movement reengaged me and many others across the political spectrum. Even though there was great disagreement on the answers Bernie gave, we engaged the questions as we considered what might be possible and practical for our future.

But here we are, many of us unhappy with the options for November’s presidential election. Is seeking unity in our unhappiness the best choice we’ve got? Or is there another point in which we can connect? How do we unify and seek justice? What if our definitions of justice differ? I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. What we need are people with different perspectives who are willing to respectfully engage the conversation in order to seek the solutions. I have increasingly little patience for one-sided thinking which appears to be more egocentric than helpful.

Maybe unity isn’t about getting along in spite of our differences, but engaging our differences with respect. What surprised me about my post on Trump wasn’t the level of engagement about Trump but a retaliation against Hillary. I don’t blame you. You felt hit by my post so you swung back. It is so hard to stay engaged when we passionately disagree.

I am also thinking about how unity for unity’s sake can be dangerous. Germany was unified as it exterminated millions of Jews. I want to seek ways to unify through respectful dialogue. And where unity impedes justice, I want to speak out. How do I value and practice both?

So many thoughts swirling in my head today…

Do I Want You To Succeed?

 

This is an interesting question, if you give it some thought. Often I think the knee-jerk reaction is to say “Of course!” But when we stop and consider other factors, maybe deep down that’s not actually true. Think of someone who has hurt you. Or someone who you are a little jealous of. You appreciate his/her talents, but maybe he/she is just a bit more talented than you. So while you cheer them on publicly, quietly you are hoping for a little bit of a stumble that causes a dose of humility. There is the person who is seemingly smarter, more attractive, more successful, thinner, or has better stuff. There is the person who appears to have the perfect life, the best vacations, the largest 401k, or tremendous luck. You might enjoy that person and want to spend time with that person, but there is also just a hint of resentment too. And then there is the person who you keep helping, but seems to give very little in return. And you wonder if the relationship will ever feel equitable.

I was recently thinking about a person whom I like but have struggled with. I was questioning how much I would continue to invest in the relationship. And while in the midst of answering this very logical question of my time and energy, an entirely new question popped into my head like a poorly thrown bowling ball onto the lane. “Do I want you to succeed?” The answer, I knew almost intuitively, was “I don’t know.” Because the perceived right consequence is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Have you suffered enough? Have you paid the cost for your past behavior? Should you really be let off the hook and allowed to move forward?

Upon reflection I began to see how I would have the opportunity through our interactions to either help this person succeed, or through skeptical eyes wait for this person to fail. While I might not directly contribute to the person’s failure, I most certainly would not be contributing to the opportunity for success. I strongly advocate for the need of healthy boundaries so I am in no way suggesting we be doormats. But I realize that even with my boundaries in place, there is the opportunity to be kind and loving. Ultimately each of us is responsible for our own behavior. But there are people in our lives who help us to be our best selves, and there are people in our lives who make that more difficult. I want to be the former, and not the latter.

For our Ash Wednesday service at church, we read a buddhist meditation that has four parts. It is read in first person. Then it is reread thinking of a loved one. It is read a third time while thinking of those you encounter but don’t really know. Finally it is read while considering someone who has caused you suffering. Here are the words, using a second person pronoun:

May you be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.

May you be safe and free from injury.

May you be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety.

 

May you learn to look at yourself with the eyes of understanding and love.

May you be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in yourself.

May you learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in yourself.

 

May you know how to nourish the seeds of joy in yourself every day.

May you be able to live fresh, solid, and free.

May you be free from attachment and aversion, but not indifferent.

The words are quite powerful as you go through them and consider the various people in your life. Sure, the words inspire as you ponder your self-image. And the sentiments are wonderful as you think of those you love. But what about the person behind the cash register who seems to take forever? What about the co-worker who relishes the opportunity to prove you wrong? And what about the person who has hurt you? Are you able to read and mean these words? I am not called to fix or even be in the life of that person. But the meditation calls me to wish for the person to succeed, and by that I mean to love and be loved, to find contentment and purpose and good mental health.

I will read these words and imagine those (yes, unfortunately there is more than one) I have some resentment towards. I will read them at first, probably not meaning a damn word. But as I have learned in the past, change occurs as a practice leads me away from one way of being and towards a better way of being. I will be more aware of how I might be impeding success for one, and how I might help success for another. And in doing so, regardless of the outcome, I hope to be a better person for doing so.

 

 

Do Black Lives Really Matter?

While driving to the store, I noticed a black man walking towards me alongside the road. As I often do when I see someone, I wondered what his story was. Who is he? Where he is going? What is his life like? Since he was somewhat close to the road’s edge, I worried about his safety. Suddenly the question hit me. If this guy was killed, would it matter to white culture? Sadly, I thought it wouldn’t, that he wouldn’t. Certainly not as much as if he were white. Or better yet, white and good looking. If he were rich, he would have the trifecta of important qualities. But then if he were all of those things, he probably wouldn’t be walking alongside that particular part of the road anyway.

Let’s be honest, white friends. We say we aren’t racist. We say we are all for equality. We say we aren’t part of the problem. But when we see a black man walking towards us as we sit in our parked cars, we make sure our doors are locked. While walking, if we notice a black teen approaching, we make sure our wallets are secured or our purses are held close. When we see a black woman with children waiting for the bus, we assume she had those kids for the welfare benefits. When we hear of another black victim, we have an easy answer and move on. We would never say these things. Not out loud. But deep in our bones we think it. I know because I see our Facebook posts about what we really think of black people, welfare, and poverty. We share the videos that include all the African American stereotypes. We are silent on the death of Tamir Rice. (Do you know who Tamir is? You should, particularly if you have children, had children or were a child at one time.)

When I first wrote about the racial divide on my blog, I sorted through some thoughts on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. I didn’t mention it by name, but I wrote that all lives matter. I even used it as a hashtag. A few times since, I seriously considered going back to edit that part because I have learned more about the movement. And because annoying white people have taken #AllLivesMatter to steamroll over the BLM movement. But I have resisted the temptation to edit because the post was honest to where I was at the time and reveals some of my ignorance.

I have spent the last year listening again and learning more. I have spent time considering my own perceptions of people and how my perceptions can be unfair and even hurtful. I have had a number of conversations, attended gatherings, read accounts, and looked for ways to help. And I will continue doing so. None of this is easy work. But it is important work. Because black lives do matter. We don’t need a White Lives Matter movement masked as All Lives Matter because that sentiment undergirds nearly every aspect of our culture.  We don’t need to feel threatened because we already have ample advantages.

I heard someone recently say that she couldn’t watch 12 Years A Slave because it was too difficult to watch. It was extremely difficult. And uncomfortable. And painful. Those who were birthed from slavery don’t have a choice whether they will face the difficulties of racism, hatred, or slavery’s lingering effects generations later. We white people need to do better. My faith says so. My conscience says so. My experience says so. Do black lives really matter? Hell yes they matter. Now what can we do to better show it?

 

What Just Happened?

Every once in awhile, something happens that leaves me utterly speechless. It is as if someone has stolen my words before they were formed, leaving me with what feels like a vacuum in my mouth. I can open my mouth, but nothing comes out.

Maybe it is the introvert in me, but at times like this, words can feel profane. As if somehow filling that vacuum with forced sentiment might actually accomplish something. But perhaps that is because I have no words. Instead I sit in the silence, which feels somehow like a scream. Silently screaming, or screamingly silent for what has occurred that is both unimaginable and utterly heartbreaking.

If you have the luxury of comfort tonight, pray for those who need to feel peace in the midst of chaos. Pray for those who need to feel love and comfort in the midst of heartache. Don’t be a self-centered, self-seeking jerk. Not tonight. Instead think of those who are desperate for something, whether that is physical, emotional, or mental. And for God’s sake, if you can help, offer. Don’t ask yourself if they deserve your help. Just do it. Life is too short, my friends.

Questions, Questions, Questions

I love questions. I love thinking them up. I love talking them through. I love hearing them. I love asking them. Even the silly questions small children ask can be fun. Not that I don’t periodically feign having something to do so that I can walk away. But I try to do so without letting on that I am bored because I would never want to quash a questioner.

To me, it is the figurative experience of poking and prodding to see how stable or sturdy something is. It reveals strength or lack of it. Some might think I am specifically looking for a weak position or that I relish tearing something down through the course of my questioning. But that is not true. I love to learn. And it helps that I have a sort of detached relationship with knowledge. When something does not hold up, I would rather know so that I can reconstruct. Rarely do I abandon the entire structure that makes up what I think or believe. Rather questioning is the way to discover what needs to be reconsidered. And ultimately the work makes those thoughts and beliefs better. It’s like finding a leak in the roof and fixing it before a big storm comes.

Questions about religion, faith, God… those can be big, complicated, difficult questions. My religious landscape is like a great outdoor expanse. I construct very little, spending most of my time exploring the possibilities. People looking for certainty aren’t going to find my answers particularly comforting. And so I try to discern when it is best to listen and say little, and when it is best to answer honestly. It helps to recognize when a question is genuinely being asked and different perspectives are welcomed, versus a question that seeks affirmation. It’s the proverbial “Does this make me look fat?” question. You know what you have to say. Nothing good comes from the answer, “maybe just a little” when the person only wants to hear, “No! You look great!”

What I find essential with any serious question is conversation. Conversation allows for differing opinions. Conversation recognizes the limitations each of us brings. Conversation proves to be more about learning from each other than convincing the other. And yet we don’t do conversation well. Just look at what happens with most “conversations” about religion or politics. It resorts, often very quickly, to discrediting the other voice. A narrow perspective makes one live a very small life in a very small world. That is why we need more meaningful conversation and with people who think and see things differently.

This kind of conversation is difficult. We become vulnerable as we expose our thoughts and ideas to others, and can feel threatened by thoughts and ideas that challenge our own. And yet I believe many of us crave conversations that bring us together in spite of our differences. For those of us who want to be part of reconciliation, we know we have to do this better. These are my rules for meaningful conversation:

  1. Listen. Sounds easy, but rarely is done well. Often the “listener” starts working on a response before the talker has finished making his/her point.
  2. Be honest. Defensiveness and anger are typically masked hurts. Be real with yourself and others about what you are feeling rather. This takes time and patience with self and others.
  3. Be respectful regardless of how much you disagree.
  4. Always looks for what you can learn, rather than what you can teach.
  5. Recognize that no matter how smart you are, you don’t know it all.
  6. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes you don’t know until you’ve begun that a reasonable conversation isn’t going to happen.
  7. Don’t be an asshole.

While social media is a terrible place for meaningful conversation, it can be a good place to start it. Send me your questions. Message me or post it in the comments section. Let’s explore some of our big questions together.  And when a question deeply stirs you, I hope you will find someone to talk with in person, or better yet find a few people. That is where the magic really happens. It also takes more work. I am convinced that to have a few people in your life to whom you can say anything makes all the difference in feeling loved, supported, and connected. And that’s something we all need. No question about  it.