OK, so I'm a bad, bad updater. For a long while, life was uber-busy. After that, I managed to knock all the sense out of my brain - literally. Post concussive disorder is not a happy, shiney, fun thing. I still can't see well enough to read without my eyes about an inch from the text, and even then it's no more than 15 minutes or so at a time. As such, I'm disclaiming any typos right now, if Firefox doesn't make it a brilliant shade of scarlet, I don't know they exist.
I wasn't planning on updating again until I could see/read on a regular basis, but I can't seem to get this thought path out of my head, so I'm hoping that blogging about it might help a bit. The little bit of daily reading I've been able to do has been focused on only a small number of my favorite blogs, and I've slowly been catching up on them over the last few weeks. It seems that post-election, hate crimes are climbing at an astonishing rate. I'm wondering if there's an actual causation effect from some of our elections, or if it's merely a correlational coincidence.
Obama won the presidency, and I for one was excited about that. However, it seems there is a large group of Americans who didn't share my opinion. No problem, that happens every November. I don't think there's ever been a unanamous vote for an elected office. That's part of life, sometimes your side wins, sometimes it doesn't. Most of the time, though, people are good sports. When we lose, we mourn. Then we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to the work of trying to change things for the next time around. Unfortunately, there's always a small group who seems heartset on ruining it for everyone. It seems that some people are truely terrified about the idea of a black man being the president. They are so terrified that they are willing to take it out on any black person whom they encounter. I've read countless stories of name-calling, harrassment, altercations, beatings, and over New Year's with the highly publicized (and rightly so) brutally senseless slaying of Oscar Grant.
It's not just race that has hatred and vitriol boiling over, though. It's not just the losers who seem to be sore. Proposition 8 passed in the state of California this November. The "Defense of Marriage" act is now a part of their state's constitution. Perhaps some voters there took that "win" as an edict from God or other that their side must now empiracally be right. The number of hate crimes against gays, lesbians, and transexuals has risen drastically. There have been taunts, harrassment, bashings, rapes, all bred again from fear and hatred of that which is different from the "norm".
Yes, I know, none of this is new. These things have been going on for years. Why am I suddenly fixated now? I think it's a conglomeration of events which all happened to coincide at the same time. I've never really been what most would consider an activist. Yes, I'll sign a petition or write a legislator. I've silently stood in participation of a few protests in my time. However, I've never canvassed door-to-door. I've never organized or spoken to the crowd for a protest. I've never gone very far physically out of my comfort zone in support of what is right. Maybe that makes me part of the problem... After all, the only thing that is required for evil to prevail is for good men (and women) to stand quietly and watch. However, despite my not being what I would consider an activist, I have always tried to be and advocate. I try to speak up for human rights, I try to at least verbally and in my personal actions stand up for the oppressed, mistreated, and persecuted.
My church is preparing to host a prayer service for Martin Luther King Day, the day before President-elect Obama's inauguration. Almost fifty years ago this man was shot and killed for having both the hope that things might one day change, and the audacity to share that hope with the world. Yet today, here we are, having in some ways come so far from that day, yet at the same time, still having so much further to go. MLK said many poignant things in his speech, but the phrases on which my mind currently fixate include the following most of all:
"This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."
This inspires me, this says more concisely what I hope for, what I long to see, what my heart yearns to feel when accomplished than I could ever put into words with this type of eloquence. I'm a Christian. More than that, I'm a director of youth ministries in a Christian church. I try to instill hope in my children, hope which is born from faith; hope that strengthened by their faith will bouy them through any obstacle or trial. This quote is something that I could easily imagine a modern-day Christ saying to our world. As Christians, we are called to follow and continue his teachings and his ministries. Now, I will be the first to profess that when it comes to Biblical studies I don't carry even close to the credentials that most of the "Biblical Authorities" can claim. However, I have read the Gospels, I've poured over letters to the early church written by His disciples, I've studied the scriptures as keenly as my own limited mind is able - and when it comes to discipleship, when it comes to taking up my cross and following what it seems to me he is trying to teach, I always end up at the same place, the same chapter, the same verses. Time after time I am left with Matthew, chapter 22, verses 36-40:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
We are not called to look for differences; we are not called to point out one anothers' flaws and shortcomings; we are not called to judge, ridicule, or harm anyone for any reason. We are called to the hardest, most labor instensive work of all - we are called to love. If this is the goal to which we strive, if this is the target at which we aim, then hatred is not possible. Crime against our neighbors cannot happen. Condemnation be it verbal or physical cannot be permitted. We are called to love, we are called to work together hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart. We will only be as good as the goodness we are able to find in others. By that criteria, right now, most of us aren't so good...
"Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."
If we replace the word "racial" with "human" I believe this quote cuts sharply to the quick of the matter. Where, though, do we find justice? Where is the justice for the lesbian who is brutally gang-raped? Where is the justice to the families of minorities who are injured or even killed for racial traits over which there is no choice or control? Where is the justice for the homeless child who cannot hope to ever better their situation because every day they are too hungry to concentrate in class and learn? Where is the justice for the outcast so bullied that eventually even they cannot stand their own existence? There is no punishment just enough for the perpetraters of such atrocities. Perhaps, though, justice can be found in change. If enough voices cry out against the injustice, if enough hands work to build instead of destroy, if enough hearts love where there is hatred, perhaps justice can come from the growth of new thoughts and ways. Perhaps justice comes when "normal" is not fear, but understanding.
"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Genitiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
I look forward to the sound of that ring, I look forward to hearing the cry of freedom for all humanity to echo across our globe. However, it is not when freedom rings that these opposing groups will join hands. Instead, we must hand in hand struggle to grease the clapper of it's rusted bell. When we learn to join hands choosing to recognize and love the common ties of all humans instead of to focus and bicker on the differences, that is when the longed for bell will finally ring. Thank God that is when humanity truely will be free.
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
The entirity of our preamble reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
We are all created equal. Black or white; gay or straight; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, or other; man or woman, rich or poor, first and foremost we are all humans. Yet, that truth doesn't seem so self-evident these days.
I found myself this evening trying to figure out where we got it so wrong. How did a message of hope and of love become so twisted and convoluted? The "answer" I finally stumbled upon (at least one of them) gave meaning finally to an issue on which I'd been brooding since last night. Last night was an exceptional struggle with some of my church kids. The activity we were doing wasn't the coolest or most fun, but it was an important one. We were taking the time to make Valentine cards for our sick or shut-in congregational members. I empathized with them that construction paper and glue sticks weren't exactly the "in" thing to be doing with their weekend time, but that the love and compassion it would give to members of our own church family was worth trading for an hour of two of their time. I had hoped that maybe we'd even find time to laugh and enjoy one anothers' company as we did it.
Instead though, I was faced with kids in seemingly every room of the church save the one in which we were supposed to be working. I was faced with kids more interested in making cards that their friends would laugh at than ones which might comfort the heart of those often forgotten. I was faced with kids more interested in pelting each other with thrown markers than making art with them. I was faced with kids more interested in being right than in doing right. Mostly, though, I was just faced with kids. It's taken me 30+ hours, talks with my pastor, my husband, friends, and mentors, and a lot of prayer and thought to figure out why this time it felt so different. I've faced this type of thing many times before, and usually it just boils down to kids being kids. They're rowdy, they like to have fun, and they're struggling for independence every step of the way. It's what they do, and ultimately, it's how they grow.
Last night, though, it felt less like growth and more like mutiny. Tonight I finally figured out a large part of why. It's a simple seven letter word made famous by Aretha Franklin - Respect. There was a complete lack of respect in yesterday's fiasco. It wasn't just a lack of respect for me, that I can usually just shrug off and try again the next time. It was a lack of respect for me, mixed in with a lack of respect for their church family, their group as a whole, and most of all - themselves.
Now, the lack of respect shown in the Valentine's card-making fiasco isn't even on the same measurable scale as murder, rape, beatings, and other hate crimes. However, I believe it does stem from the same root. When we somehow lose sight of our respect for our elders, our respect for our teachers, our respect for our friends, neighbors, and ourselves, ultimately we've taken the first step towards losing our respect for humanity and human-kind. As much as I was disappointed in their behavior, I'm now disappointed in myself for not giving them the respect they deserved by calling them on this fact. These are good kids. These kids deserve enough respect to be held accountable not only to me, but to each other and most importantly, to themselves.
Humanity deserves that same respect. We deserve activists, advocates, and most of all compassionate people who love them enough to see past the short comings in preference to bridging the gaps. We all deserve the respect of one another as shown by holding each other accountable to being the best that each of us is able to be. Only then will we truely acheive human rights. Only then will we deserve to be called human.
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