Oct 23, 2016

Solidarity



What affects one of us, affects all of us. When one of us does well, we all do well. When one of us stumble, we all hurt. This is compassion. This is the common good. The common good is not a socialist, left-wing, or liberal cause. It is a human cause. We witness this in our immediate and extended families every day. We experience this phenomenon in our churches. But why is it so hard to extend this concept to fellow human beings we live in and among everyday? Why is it hard to extend solidarity to those who are different from us?

I often wonder why regular people in Germany looked the other way when they saw the emaciated Jewish prisoners on the trains, marching through their towns, and behind barbed wire in the concentration camps. I've read many books about this time period in history. This horrid event has fascinated me since I was an adolescent. I'm amazed how such a large group of people let such a wretched event transpire right under their noses. This quote by Niemoller speaks to that quite well:


But now I can see how so many sat by and said or did nothing. I'm experiencing that same phenomenon in my own country. Sometimes it's apathy. People don't care because it doesn't affect them. Sometimes it's fear. If I say something, I might offend someone, I might lose my job, I might receive negative backlash (think Colin Kapernick). Sometimes it's arrogance. We think we are right and the other (whomever the other is) is wrong and they deserve whatever consequences befall them. Sometimes it's racism. That ugly word that attached itself to our history and affected everything from politics to education to protecting the peace. Sometimes its nationalistic pride blinding our eyes to the need of the other. Sometimes it's selfish greed wanting what we want no matter the cost.

I am sad, angry, confused, disappointed and deeply concerned with the injustice, negativity, hate, greed, fear, ignorance and arrogance I see all around me. But I cannot only point fingers. I stand and take my part of the blame. I've been silent when I should have spoken up. I've looked the other way when I could have stepped in and helped. I've turned a deaf ear to the cry of the needy, justifying my actions with my own needs. I've judged others as unworthy of my help and deserving of their consequences. I've chosen justification over forgiveness. I've chosen greed over compassion. I've chosen judgement over grace. I've chosen fear over love. For all these choices, my heart breaks. 

I cannot be silent any longer. Even if standing in solidarity means only using my words, saying them out loud, writing them down for others to read. Maybe one day they will turn into action. Maybe my words will let 'the other' know they are not alone. I don't want 'the other' wondering where I was when horrible things were happening to them. It is not okay. How some human beings are being treated by their fellow human beings is just not okay and I can't sit by and be silent any longer.

I KNOW IMMIGRANTS. The ones I know are not abusing the system. They are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. They are fleeing governments and countries marred by death, destruction, corruption and severe poverty. They are seeking to better themselves in our country because they heard it was a land of opportunity. They didn't know that that opportunity was for the wealthy, white people only. They thought it was for all those who worked hard and cared for others along the way. Through a friend, I met a woman who's husband was deported leaving her and their 2 year old son behind with nothing. I've felt the fear. I hugged her and gave her the tiniest gift that was inadequate to her need but that was enough to show she was not alone and that someone cared. We didn't speak the same language, but love doesn't need that. Love is understood by the actions we take. My friend offered to watch her little boy so this woman could go find a job. That is all she had to give yet that was exactly what this poor woman needed. Whatever the circumstances of her husband's deportation, it still separated a loving family. It still hurt. It still brought immediate needs and fears and concerns. My job is to be there and love. Not judge.

I KNOW AFRICAN AMERICANS. My heart breaks for each unarmed African American killed by a police officer and for their devastated families. These are not justified killings. This is not peace-keeping. This is wrong. America needs to admit we have a race problem before we can do anything about it. The problem of racism is so deeply rooted in our country. It pervades everything. It is incredibly divisive. I've worked with an African American man and witnessed first hand the bigotry and prejudice he had to deal with on a daily basis. I was aghast. He was gentle, kind and forgiving about it all. I was angry. We talked about it in depth. He was a bigger person than I. He knew forgiveness enabled him to keep going. Brooding over the unfairness of it all just kept him in a prison of anger and hatred. It broke my heart to witness and experience the sting that racism feels like. It is not okay. What affects my friend affects me. I have another African American friend who lives in a very nice, middle-class neighborhood. She has often been the lone black face among her many white friends. She's a beautiful person, always trying to bring unity and joy to everyone around her. Yet she shared with me how she had to have a talk with her 5 year old daughter about how cruel kids can be and about the names people will call her in school. I was shocked; people are calling 5 year old girls the n-word? I didn't have to have this talk with my 5 year old. This was not my reality. But this is the reality African Americans live with. This is not okay. If this was happening to me, I would want to stand up and yell to the world the injustice of it all and fix it. Why can't we understand that Black Lives Matter too? It's not that they matter above all else, it's that they've been squashed, excluded, ignored, left-out for far too long. All lives are important, but the African Americans need the assurance from us that they matter as well because for far too long they haven't. We might have agreed with our words, but our actions have proven otherwise. 

I KNOW MUSLIMS. There are many beautiful, kind, wonderful, hard-working, peaceful muslims. There are also fundamental, hateful muslims. This is true in Christianity as well. The majority should not be defined by the minority. The Christians who inflict harm and hate on others are not a true reflection of Christianity. Then why can't we believe the same to be true about Islam? We can't paint all Muslims as extremist and terrorist when the majority are not. It's not fair. Every religion has their fundamentalists - the people who take it to an extreme or too far. The Muslims I know are so kind and giving. They genuinely care for their fellow human beings. By accepting Muslims, you are not forced to agree with their theology, you are just accepting a fellow human being who happens to believe in God differently than you do. We need to give each other this respect if we want them to respect the way we believe in God. We can't let fear define how we treat an entire group of people.

I KNOW REFUGEES. These are people who never wanted to leave their native countries. Rather, they have been forced out by wretched governments doing unspeakable evils to their own people. They were forced to flee the country they grew up in and love with only the clothes on their backs. They had to leave everyone they love behind. They are often forced to give up their customs and normalcy just to stay alive. Nobody chooses to be a refugee. Most refugees are women and children. The refugees I know are scared. They are trying to function in a new society where nothing looks familiar, they don't know the language, they can't find the foods they are used to eating, and where people give them strange looks for dressing differently. They are now in a place where people are afraid of them instead of welcoming and accepting. These are people with strong character. Talk about pulling yourself up by the bootstrap. They often work menial jobs for low wages and terrible hours. Yet, they still find time to continue their education. They go to school whenever they're not working. They are trying to better themselves, their lives, their circumstances. Education does that. If you can speak the language of the country you live in, you have a better chance of assimilating faster. But another thing about the refugees that most people don't see....their smiles. They are always smiling, just happy to be alive another day, just happy to be where they are, doing what they're doing. I've learned from my refugee friends to take one day at a time - things could always be worse, but they can also get better.

I KNOW POOR PEOPLE. Nobody deserves poverty, yet people often act as if someone, somehow, someway did something to deserve this punishment of circumstances. There are so many factors to poverty: education, race, neighborhood, vocation, drugs, parental lineage, money, chance, alcohol, death, health, homelessness, greed, governmental systems. It seems like an insurmountable problem. It's not a uniquely American problem, it's worldwide. It can't be easily fixed. It's overwhelming. But we can help one person at a time. When one life steps in and touches one other life, you never know the domino effect it will have. There are beautiful people in every ethnicity, religion and nationality making beautiful strides and impacts in this area every day. Most of these people we'll never hear about. The lady I know was struck with a terminal illness. She can no longer work as a nurse. She's had to find adoptive parents for her son and set all her affairs in order because she doesn't know when that fateful day will come - which seizure will be her last. She can't work. She can only rely on the kindness of strangers. I bring her dinner once a week. I've known her for four years now. Hopelessness and fear are her constant companions. Yet she's so happy to see me every week. It's her one constant. It's not about whether or not she deserves it, it's about love. Everyone wants, needs to be loved. She craves her weekly dose of love. It just happens to come in the form of food and a hug from me. I don't know how else to do it. 

I WISH I KNEW NATIVE AMERICANS. I met a Native American once. It was a fascinating experience. The entire time I was listening to him all I wanted to do was say, "I'm so sorry." I'm sorry for what my ancestors have done to your ancestors (I also want to say this to many African Americans as well). I'm sorry we continue to not honor agreements, that we treat you as the lesser, that we took your sacred land and gave you vast prairies of nothingness in return. I'm sorry we didn't and still don't respect you as human beings just because you do things differently than those of us from European decent. I'm sorry we're once again trying to steal something sacred to you (and to all humans), the water that runs where the Dakota Pipeline is being built. I'm sorry people in my government put money, greed and profit over what's best for the environment and how that affects you and your people. I'm sorry we didn't listen then and we continue to turn a deaf ear to you now. You are truly the "least of these" and I'm sorry I'm complicit in overlooking you. I also want to say, "Thank you." Thank you for being gracious to us, for allowing us to join your pow-wows and memorial day events. Thank you for treating us the way you wish to be treated.

I think Brian McLaren sums it all up perfectly: True faith isn't a deal where we use God to get the inside track or a special advantage or a secret magic formula for success. It isn't a mark of superiority or exclusion. True faith is about joining God in God's love for everyone. It's about seeking goodness with others, not at the expense of others. True faith is seeing a bigger circle in which we are all connected, all included, all loved, all blessed. True faith...brings us into solidarity with others and with all creation.


(Quote from: "We Make the Road by Walking")


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