Friday evenings I try to help out with a community dinner our church hosts. On a typical Friday we serve about forty people. Some come because they are hungry. Others come because they are lonely. They all get a great meal and community interaction. Last Friday we had a Thanksgiving meal; turkey, fixings, desert, the whole deal. We had about twice the normal crowd, and it was one of those rare events where a few people didn’t act appropriately.
The director of the community dinner asked one person to leave because he was drinking and told a few others to leave as well. A couple of them started talking back to the director, asking who she thought she was. I don’t know if it was simply because they were drunk, because they didn’t respect women, because they didn’t respect black people, or some other reason, but I felt pretty sure that they would not be talking back to me, an older white man, the way they were talking back to her. I have a privileged place in our society because of my race and gender. I have a responsibility to use that privilege appropriately.
It is why I wear a safety pin and have spoken about it a lot recently online. I believe I have a responsibility to speak up for those who are being disrespected because of their race, religion, gender, or any other reason they might be marginalized. I believe it is something all of us with privilege are called by God to do.
We must be thoughtful about how we use our privilege. We must seek to use it in ways that don’t reinforce cycles of disrespect for marginalized people, but instead challenge that disrespect.
So I stepped in, and answered the question. Who does she think she is? She is the director of the community dinner. What she says goes. I was there to assist her in any way she needed. Perhaps they just needed to hear that in the voice of a white man. Perhaps they just needed to see that the community was supporting the director of the community dinners. Whatever was needed, they heard the message and left.
Perhaps in the greater scheme of things, this little incident doesn’t make a lot of difference in political discourse with recently empowered people who do not act and believe in the words of our Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty and justice FOR ALL’. Perhaps it was only a little ripple of hope for a few people.
Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy said,
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
So, I will continue to help with community dinners. I will wear my safety pin. I will speak up and do whatever is needed to make sure that we love our neighbors and have liberty and justice for all. With God’s help, I will make as many tiny ripples as possible, and I hope you’ll join me.
Yet again, I’m seeing lots of meta-discussions about the latest symbol of solidarity. Today, it is the safety pin.
I’m seeing posts like, Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing. I always get a little suspect when a white person addresses other white people like this, and I think the article is pretty far off base.
A much better article is So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin. Instead of sounding like a teenage saying, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me”, this article has really important points. If you’re going to wear a safety pin, think it out carefully. How are you going to help a marginalized person be safe? Do you know how to de-escalate a situation? How much risk are you willing to take?
This article was shared in a Facebook group for Episcopalians. The group is supposed to be non-political and many people took offense to the post, claiming it is political. Yes, the first paragraph does not speak favorably about the President-Elect, but the core message is not political, it is very practical.
The response does beg the question, what does the safety pin really mean?
The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, CT posted, a Latina Episcopal priest posted,
A dear friend just asked me what the safety pin means. As I explained it to her, an analogy came to mind : remember the fish used to identify early persecuted Christians...
I think that captures an important essence of the safety pin.
Yet another friend of mine, a woman of color, posted on her Facebook wall,
Just so y'all know, it takes way more than a safety pin for us to feel safe. You don't get to choose how marginalized people feel safe. Put your pins away and go undo the damage that's been done. Don't be a social media protester.
One person responded that they feel the same idea, but dodn’t know where to start. I responded,
Let me suggest a slightly different take on this. One of the issues in politics today, it seems to me, is either/or thinking. I encourage people to wear safety pins, but not to stop there. Use the pins as a starting point for conversations. Use the pins as a way to find others to connect with. If you see someone wearing a pin, tell them that's great. Ask them what things they are doing to address both immediate and systemic safety issues. Maybe you'll learn something from them. Maybe, you'll get them to realize that they need to do more. This can be especially powerful for people who really don't know how to get involved.
Some may dismiss my comments as being ‘nitpicking pedantry’, but I believe this is important for a few different reasons. One aspect is that this is not just about one oppressed group. It is about many different oppressed groups and different people need support in different ways.
Another aspect that needs to be considered is that potential allies are coming from many different places in their journeys. I’ve often talked about this in terms of electoral politics. There is a continuum. Some people need register to vote. Some people need to become informed. Some people need to get out and vote. Some people need to become involved in campaigns or committees. Some people need to run for office. We need to help each person become more involved, wherever they are.
Similarly, we need to get people engaged after the election at so many different levels. Some people just need to stop saying and doing blatantly racist, sexist, misogynist, and so many other oppressive things. Some people need to start off by learning about institutionalized and systemic racism, sexism, and so on. Some people need to step up and make a statement, maybe as simple as a social media post, or wearing a safety pin. Some people need to get involved, or step up their involvement in various social justice activities. We can all do more.
Yet when it comes to the discussion about whether or not to wear a safety pin, the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee comes to mind. Here is my twenty first century translation.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two people were checking social media, one a social activist and the other a low information voter. The social activist posted: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people - racists, misogynists, homophobes - or even like this low information voter. I go to social justice committee meetings twice a week and contribute to many social justice organizations.’
“But the low information voter read other people’s posts quietly. It occurred to him how his vote had contributed to racists and misogynists becoming more aggressive. He could not even post on social media, but beat his breast, put on a safety pin, and said, ‘God, how could I have done this?’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Today, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook that starts,
There is a special, insidious sort of cruelty to telling people they're being unreasonable for worrying that a president elect will do exactly what he said he would do…
It is long and strident and you can read the whole post here.
It has received a lot of reactions. Four people loved it, five people were sad, 72 liked it and 61 people shared it. Twelve people commented on it, and those comments received 37 additional comments. It has resonated strongly, either positively or negatively, depending on where you are on the political spectrum.
The first comment, from a conservative Republican friend was,
The amount of hate coming from the left is amazing.
There is a great amount of hate out there right now, and while it is tempting to suggest most of the hate is coming from the other end of the political spectrum than your own, it appears to be across the spectrum.
People hate Muslims, Mexicans, black people, gays, transgendered people, women, people on welfare, members of the one percent, Trump, Clinton, Republicans, Democrats, and all kinds of different people. I believe we are called love our neighbors and pray for our enemies.
Yet there is another form of hatred. Hating racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, injustice, and oppression. I believe that part of our call to love our neighbor includes working against all forms of injustice and oppression.
We fight injustice many ways. We vote. We write. We assemble peaceably. We must acknowledge hatred across the political spectrum. We need to try to find ways to hear the hurt of people different from us and not pretend it isn’t there.
Recently, a Facebook friend who is a priest ask his friends how he should be thinking as he prepares for this coming Sunday's sermon, the Sunday after an election that has caused such strong, polarized feeling. The first thing that came to my mind was 1 Samuel 8 where the Elders of Israel asks Samuel to appoint for them a king. It is a stern warning about looking for earthly leaders instead of heavenly leaders. It is pretty bleak, but I know it is what a lot of people are feeling right now.
Yet as an Episcopalian, I prefer sermons based on the lectionary. The appointed Gospel for this Sunday is Luke 21:5-19. It is also pretty bleak, with lines like, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven”.
Where is the Good News?
Perhaps we can find it in the Old Testament reading, Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
This may not sound what many are experiencing. It may sound a little too pie in the sky, but I think there is something there.
“I am about to create new heavens”. Have you ever lived in a house that was being renovated? I must admit, I’ve never really lived through that, but I know friends who have. They struggled with sealed off rooms, sawdust everywhere, the kitchen being available and having to live off meals of bought already prepared and eaten off of paper plates in the living room. It isn’t fun, but they endure it because they believe something better is coming. As they endure it, they change. Their ability to endure difficult situations grows, their ability to understand other people who struggle daily increases.
I know many people who are very concerned about the future, perhaps less about their future, and more about the future of others, whether the others be Mexican, Muslim, handicapped, transgendered, or female. There are others who are excited, who think that finally their voice is being heard. How do we share good news with everyone? How do we lovingly comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?
Recently, I’ve been reading some of Brother Lawrence. The second conversation with Brother Lawrence in Practicing the Presence of God starts off:
Brother Lawrence told me he had always been governed by love without selfish views. Since he resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions, he had found reasons to be well satisfied with his method. He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.
Perhaps this is where the real challenge lies and the real opportunity. How do we treat those different from ourselves, whether they have different religions, different countries of origin, different ability, different gender identities, so simply just different political views? How do we model, with our words and actions, practicing the presence of God, of making the love of God the end of all our actions?
I don’t have a good easy response to this. Perhaps all I can say, all any of us can say and do is to reaffirm our baptismal vows.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God's help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God's help.
Recently, I was hurt very deeply by a group of people whom I believe were trying to do what they believed was best for me. It wasn’t a physical injury. Instead, it was an emotional and spiritual injury. Over the past year and a half, many people have come forward to me to tell their stories of similar injuries and I wonder what I am supposed to do in my case, and in the case of others. I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.
Recently, I was speaking with the head of a domestic violence shelter about how we, as innocent bystanders, need to respond when we see intimate partner violence or fear that a friend of ours may be abused, or an abuser. I think this latter point is really important. How do we lovingly get an abuser to become less abusive? The head of the shelter is working on a blog post about this.
It came into sharp focus this morning when a friend on Facebook book wrote,
Every few weeks lately I hear my neighbors fighting. They are a young couple with a baby. The mom is often crying and saying she wants him to leave. The cops have been called at least once.
Sometimes I stand in the doorway so he knows I have my eye on him. I haven't been sure how much more to intervene, but have been on the verge of going out to talk to them and offering to call the cops (which you know is something I would only do as a last resort).
Tonight, just as I finally decided to attempt to stop reading election tweets and go to sleep, I heard them again. I heard a smack and I jumped out of bed and went outside. As soon as my porch light came on he ran off into the house and I saw her lying in the street and sobbing.
How do we respond to violence or the threat of violence? I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.
Today is Election Day. The level of anxiety in our nation is great. It permeates everything. I wonder if that anxiety was a contributing factor in my friend’s neighbor’s situation. I wonder how that level of anxiety is affecting me, and those who injured me.
A long-time political friend on Facebook, a conservative Republican, posted
Republicans let the underbelly of the American entertainment complex take over the party and right now I’m watching smart people who I respect trade their most core principles for fealty to a political party.
What are our core principles? That all people are created equal? That all people are created in the image of their Creator? That all people are loved by their creator? How does this relate to our loyalty to the institutions we are part of? Where does faith fit in?
Another conservative friend of mine on Facebook posted
We need to grow up in Christ and come back to our right mind and good senses! I don’t know about you, but my relationship with Christ isn’t affected by anyone or anything. My blessings are not contingent or dependent upon who is in office. If need be, God will make Hillary Clinton my servant and cause her to deliver blessing right to my front door. Nothing shall separate me from the love of God in Christ; not Hillary, Donald, or anyone else.
As I look forward to this day, and the days to come, there are a few thoughts that come to mind. I posted this on Facebook:
Will the glass shards that surround us tomorrow be from a broken glass ceiling? From Kristallnacht? From some combination of the two?
It is up to each one of us, what we do today when we vote and what we do afterwards as we work towards truth and reconciliation.
I also posted the prayer for an election on Facebook
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The voting will be over by the end of the day, and it will be time to start reconciliation. I need to work on the long hard slow process of reconciliation with those who hurt me. Couples will need to work on reconciliation. Our nation will need to work on reconciliation. We need to spend a lot of time thinking and praying about this, and where we go from here.