I found this wonderful reflection this morning, from Tammerie Day. She tells the truth about white privilege.
This is the part that caught my attention:
Without conscious intention, white bodies will incarnate and replicate this demonic history. While we grow up fractured, detached, unaware, history can continue to use our bodies to retell the same old stories, reinscribe the same old powers, reconstruct the same inequities. We have to know different to choose different. We have to choose different to live different. We have to live different to live. The alternative is that our death-dealing history will continue to recruit us unaware to live into a story that is killing us all, even as it makes some of us into killers and some into victims.
But you can access the rest of it (not long) here .It is well worth your time.
When lovers fight it can become very intense. Harsh things are said, even threats sometimes. Voices are raised, one or the other storms from the room (in the best of moments, someone may ask for a “time out” but often that nicety is lost).
Is that what is happening in our national life, too?
It seems as if we are two people–one very afraid and sure all is coming to an end, and the other also afraid that all they value is being lost. Perhaps it is better to say each feels afraid that all they value is being lost, taken from them by the actions and attitudes of the other one.
I know which one I am, and if you read this blog at all you will know that, too. To put it somewhat crudely, I am more frightened by those who want to bar all Muslims from entering the United States than I am by the terrorists who slip through whatever security arrangements our government erects.
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen says he believes there are two kinds of people, optimists and pessimists. He says it all breaks down to this basic division.
In that schema, I am an optimist.
As I write that, I want to add some qualifiers–“reasonable” or “realistic” or “sensible”–but that is because I am sensitive to what others will think, and because I can hear the voices of others who matter to me asserting that things are in a pretty bad state and that a good outcome is not assured. I hear them, but believe it is important to stand where my soul calls me. So no qualifiers.
At the same time, I yearn to be rooted in my soul place without saying harsh things, without raging in ways that make dialogue impossible, without storming from the room when those whose souls root them in pessimism utter their truths. We are in this together–even though sometimes it feels to me that the “this” is at least two very different things.
In our national life, I see many of our leaders acting from what are sometimes called masculinist assumptions, what I call the “bomb first, talk later” syndrome. Yes, I know that can be viewed as incendiary language, but it is the response of many in the face of what feels to them to be real and present danger.
In my life generally, and more and more, I try to follow the Ghandian principle that peace begins with me, within me. That means, I believe, that it is my responsibility to find ways to communicate with others, perhaps especially with those with whom I disagree most clearly and fundamentally.
This is a spiritual quest for me, but it also is what I am coming to believe is my patriotic and human duty–to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts large and small. So my question right now is this: how can I engage Donald Trump and others who are such a radical remove from me and my concerns and views?
Fay Wells, an African American woman who is vice president of strategy at a California company, encountered overwhelming police power at her home in Santa Monica. A neighbor had called police to report what he thought was a break-in at her apartment.
Earlier, she had locked herself out of the apartment on her way to a soccer game. When she returned, she had called a locksmith to let her in and fix the lock, and then had gone inside. It was at that point that seventeen (or nineteen, depending on whose count you accept) officers showed up, and she was ordered out of her home–told to come out with her hands up and walk slowly down the outside stairs, facing a drawn gun and a police dog (and all the other officers).
By her account, she was poorly treated, not by overt physical violence, but by the officers’ refusal to identify themselves or to tell her what had caused their presence. It was a frightening time for her.
Wells wrote about the incident in The Washington Post (connect here to read it in full). The police actions, and her feelings about that, are the primary focus of her story.
However, the continuing drama in many communities about the response of police personnel toward African Americans revealed yet again in her story–the violence perpetrated in the name of law enforcement through unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, treatment during incarceration as well as the killing of persons during what should be not lethal encounters–reflects the deep-seated white supremacy still at work in the culture, the DNA, of our nation. It is not just about the police.
Of course, law enforcement agencies need to change. Retraining in the ways of cultural sensitivity is essential. Probably some cops need to be let go. Some municipal authorities–mayors and city councils, police chiefs–are doing the hard work. Others need to step up. Every agency needs a thorough inventory of itself, with outside help, to figure out what it needs to change–and then the willingness to go through transformation.
However, important as that work is, it is only treating part of the problem. Underneath police department attitudes and practices rests the much deeper foundation of white supremacy and privilege which marks our entire national culture. Alongside that rests our national love affair with guns. The truth is that all of us–certainly all of us who are not people of color–are responsible for the police departments that serve us (yes, they serve us, more than they serve others who don’t look like us, even if unintentionally).
The story does not really begin with the large police presence outside her apartment. It begins with the call from the neighbor. What about him? Would he have called them if Wells had been white? Chances are the answer is “no.”
In her story, she says she spoke to him, and he seemed pretty defensive. Eventually, he identified himself as an attorney. Wells tried to question him, but after a little back and forth, he said, . . . . “you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.
That sort of says it all . . . . so many people don’t want to take responsibility for their own attitudes as well as their own behavior.
Until more and more of us do, this will not change–even when, or if, the police do.
Spiritual journeys are often arduous affairs. Many people who have shared about their own admit that they went places they did not expect to be, saw things they did not expect or maybe even want to see, and changed more,and in ways other, than they thought possible or even desirable (at least initially).
Mother Teresa, for example, wrote (in private diaries only published after her death) that much of her journey of caring for the poor, exhibiting what the world saw as enormous faith, was marked by a lack of faith in the presence of God. Nonetheless, she kept going until the end.
It is this kind of patience, perseverance, that so many lack. Our Western culture lives on the fast track, wanting only sound bites for answers, quick fixes that may make the fixer feel good but do not really change anything.
I am struck by how this desire for the quick fix is infecting the political arena in the United States today. It reminds me of an earlier time in our national life, a tumultuous time before the Civil War. Slavery was unsettling the nation to be sure, but there were other stresses, too.
One was immigration. Wave upon wave of immigrant from Europe–many Irish and German Catholics arriving in the late 1840’s and 50s–scared those already here. They feared the country would be taken over by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.
A political movement arose, under various names, but ultimately came to be known popularly as the Know Nothing Party (because members, seeking to keep their membership and work a secret, were encouraged to say, “I know nothing,” when asked if they belonged). It officially became the American Party, and other combinations of terms, designed to highlight their belief that only nativists (but not Native Americans, of course), not these Catholic immigrants, were the true Americans.
It would be easy to say the Republican candidates, and many of their supporters, today are like the Know Nothings. But in fact the Know Nothings supported many progressive measures. They often supported regulation of railroads and other institutions and free public education, and many opposed slavery and spoke against concentrations of wealth.
What does connect these Know Nothings with contemporary Republicans is fear, fear that someone from the outside is destroying the nation. Today, it is immigrants from Mexico (“build a wall” so no more come in, and send all the ones here back), and now, thanks to twenty or so state governors, it is immigrants fleeing the chaos and terror of Syria (because among their number are sure to be some ISIS-inspired terrorists seeking to come here to destroy us).
And there is another fear, namely that elites–the so-called mainstream media today is the favorite–are selling out all the good, ordinary Americans. Certainly, the anti-politician rhetoric of Messrs. Carson and Trump, and their supporters, reflect this belief. Another target of many, though not all, are the banks and other concentrations of wealth.
All of this feels very scary to many of us. Simplistic solutions to complicated problems rarely help, certainly scapegoating groups does no good, and insisting that one ideology or religion has all the answers has never worked, and will only promote totalitarianism.
Is it possible to say a nation is on a spiritual journey? I hope so. We are in the midst of great turmoil. We are being shown things about ourselves that many would rather not see (e.g., the continuing violence against African-Americans). Indeed, many refuse to even look. Instead, they apply angry rhetoric and harsh policies to avoid having to deal with complicated realities.
I continue to pray, and hope, however, that all this is leading us to a deeper place, a place where we can finally face the fact that our nation, though wonderful and beautiful in many ways and surely the land that I love, is not the paragon of virtue and freedom we claim to be–indeed that we never have been–and that we need to find ways to lower the decibels, listen more to disparate voices on the margins and work with other nations in constructive ways (even recognizing their own national needs as legitimate, not just ours).
What helps me pray, helps me to share this hope? I remember Mother Teresa who stayed the course. She wrote in her journal in 1961, as revealed in the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
“Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.”
According to those who have studied her life in depth, she died with this struggle still very alive in her. Her spiritual adviser of many years, Rev. Joseph Neuner, helped her realize that her feelings of abandonment only increased her understanding of the people she helped. And she identified her suffering, and their suffering, with that of Jesus.
Our answer as a nation is not to lash out at others unlike us, to find easy fixes in blaming others, but to go more deeply in our own souls, as individuals and as a nation, and persevere in creating more justice and more opportunity and more openness everywhere in the world.
The answer to our troubles, our need, lies not so much in politics (necessary as good politics is), as it does in spiritual depth–I don’t mean religion, even though I am a deeply religious person, because we are a secular society–but I do mean in going on a spiritual journey together.
We must find a way to knit our hearts together without blame and recrimination, without scapegoating or false divisions.
One nation under God (whatever you think of, or about, God).
As Paris, and Beirut, and other places too, reel from the attacks, we are facing a world, once again, where no one feels safe.
What that means in the West is that once again, as after 9/11, we experience the world as the other two-thirds do already. And what that means also is that the veneer of safety we purchase through arms and wealth and “civilized behavior” is really just that, a veneer, masking the brutal, and beautiful, fact that we are all connected.
Most of us, thank God, do not have access to armaments with which to destroy ISIL or any other of the terrorists who seem to delight in simply blowing up things and people, mostly people. And I pray we never do. More violence by individuals acting on righteousness is not the answer.
But what we do have are our voices and our feet and our hands. We need to find ways to march together, to hold hands together, to raise our voices together.
I don’t know how this is to be done, and I doubt very much that I am the one to even get it started, but I do want to post here my prayer that somehow more creative minds than mine will find ways to call us, the ones who value every human life as sacred, together for shared action.
We cannot leave this to politicians, statesmen and stateswomen, alone. We are leaders, too. We can speak up against anti-Islam comments, we can insist our government spend more money on humanitarian assistance globally than it does on arms, we can contribute to educating girls and young women in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can support micro-financing in Two Thirds World countries. And we can help bring together imams and rabbis and Christian clergy to talk about, and act on, mutual regard and respect and universal love and citizenship.
I admit it all sounds weak compared to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in not much more than a heartbeat, but I believe working peacefully together in these ways, and many things of similar type that I cannot conjure up, is the only answer that will finally work.
War does not bring peace, even if defeats the other side. We may need it to stop something evil but if that is all we do we will have won the battle but lost the war.
Violence and punishment are the order of the day in so many places. From Syria to Ferguson, and a lot of locations in between and beyond, governments and groups and individuals use murder, mayhem, intimidation, and unjust rules and structures to keep people in their place, meaning of course where others think they belong.
The response to all this is often more of the same. It is the old playground “game” of when you are pushed, you push back.
Of course, such response is usually couched in terms of defense. “We have to defend ourselves.” It seems reasonable enough, except that is what the other folks are saying, too.
If everyone exercises their right to defend themselves, who will ever make peace?
A community in Denmark is trying something different, responding to Islamic warriors who return to their home in that northern European nation not with prison and punishment, but with help to live different, and better, lives.
Will it work? Is it practical? Will the effects last? All good questions.
But we can be pretty certain that the usual way–responding to violence and acting out with punishment and prison, perhaps even worse–has not not worked yet. If that way had worked, there would be less violence, not more.
The tragedy that is Israel/Palestine strikes deep into our hearts. How can people with such rich and beautiful spiritual traditions be so harsh with each other? The idea that many of us still call this the Holy Land seems almost a mockery of God.
Or perhaps the violence, the animosity and hatred, the intransigence and unwillingness to recognize the humanity in each other, the unwillingness even to talk with each other is actually a reflection of much of the world’s relationship with God?
A book that seeks to humanize–and for me that means also to reflect the divinity of those involved–the conflicting and conflicted personna is The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.
This book is nonfiction, but reads like a novel. At its center are two people, Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau. Bashir is a Palestinian and Dalia is an Israeli, and their lives are intertwined not by romance but by the fact that when Dalia’s parents emigrated from their native Bulgaria (she was a small child) they occupied the home of Bashir’s family in Ramla which had been confiscated by the Israeli government after the war of 1948 (and the Palestinian residents had fled the town).
The entire book puts their friendship–maintained across severe boundaries–at the center while all around whirls the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Tolan, a journalist, does not fail us in recounting all the ugly details of wars and jails and bombs and suffering while reminding us again and again that the entire story is a human one.
Anyone who wishes to understand this tragedy at a deeper level than political and military strategy, or beyond the geopolitical power games of the various nations, or even the competing claims of two peoples deeply scarred by the loss of identity and by global disrespect and subjugation, should read this book.
It does not have a pretty ending, things are not tied up in a neat bow. Tolan is a journalist after all, not a romance novelist. But still there is hope in this story, and even glimmerings of love and salvation.
When you read it–and I think every thinking person in the United States, Europe and the Middle East should read it–then you may do as I am doing, namely pray. Pray for all you are worth, pray that somehow human beings–even those whose lemon tree dies and who have trouble growing a new one–can find a way to transcend the limitations of their leaders and make peace on the ground, among themselves, heart to heart, person to person, villlage to village, family to family, faith to faith.
Such peace is hard work, because it means staying connected not only to your own desires and truths, but also to the desires and truths of those whose very existence seems to threaten you most profoundly. This is work that belongs to all of us, because only by recognizing that our humanity is dependent on the humanity of others will we ever have peace, even, or perhaps especially, in the Holy Land.
We can only be truly, fully human when we see our humanity reflected in others, and theirs in ours. It is a lesson taught by a lemon tree.