Diversity is Our Reality; Unity is Our Goal

A friend once asked me why we liberals talk so much about diversity. As a conservative, she prefers to focus on unity.

I’ve seen this attitude in cyberspace conversations as well. Sometimes commenters scold: Making a big deal out of our differences is a kind of reverse racism. We should be color blind and see only the ways we are alike. 

I once posted this meme on social media once and got several of these “reverse racism” comments. Just by naming the various groups, some people see this meme as divisive. Here’s one comment: This type of message only reinforces a divisive identity policy instead of emphasizing what is our common human identity. The teacher should emphasize our individual human rights as opposed to group identities.

This makes sense in some ways as it speaks to the worthy ideal of being together in community without letting our differences divide us. I applaud this goal; but I disagree that only “emphasizing our common humanity” will stop the divisions. I disagree that “color blindness” will accomplish the goal.

I think we should all see all the color: the splashy and the subtle colors, the soft and the loud colors with which our humanity is painted. For me, color blindness sounds like a sadness, a handicap.

Our diversity is one of the gifts our Creator has given us so why wouldn’t we celebrate it?

Our diversity reminds us that our Creator is a multifaceted, many-sided Reality so of course humanity “created in the image and likeness of God” will reflect this infinite beauty.

Diversity is our inevitable human reality.

It is unity that that requires our serious efforts.

Differences are not our problem. Division is the problem. Letting differences of color, creed or custom detour us away from a unified purpose. Allowing differences of language, labels or who we love to drive wedges between us.

Diversity is an opportunity to appreciate and appropriate the full wisdom and power of our shared humanity. It’s an opportunity to realize that our unity is not based on uniformity but instead is grounded in the harmony we create together. It’s an opportunity to glimpse the Fullness of the One who created every distinctive one of us each in the Divine Image.

If all of us – in our infinite diversity – reflect the image of God, then surely we also can reach toward the Unity that is inherent within the One True God.

Of course unity is important – crucial even – for the health of every society. But pretending we are not male and female, old and young, gay and straight, black and white and brown and red and blue and purple doesn’t make those distinctions go away. And ignoring the differences doesn’t make the unique problems disappear that some people, some groups encounter (as pointed out in the meme above).

Ignoring diversity doesn’t automatically create unity.

Even our American flag tells this story of America: the Stars and Stripes spotlight our wide national diversity but we still pledge allegiance to “… one nation under God; indivisible …” Both diversity and unity have always been highly valued in America and we will never achieve true unity unless we truly value our diversity.

Thus we discover our unity by finding commonality within our one humanity, our shared yearnings and our collaborative efforts to accomplish the tasks that are set before us.

Yes, our goal is unity. And our path to unity comes by way of our inherent diversity.

So that’s why I like to talk about our differences: because I think our diversity is Creator’s gift and plan and purpose. Just as I believe unity is God’s gift and plan and purpose for us humans.

We will always have multitudes of differences without even trying. But we will never accomplish true unity without abundant grace and infinite good will.

If the Right Must be Right then the Left Must be Heresy

I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. People who don’t live in this bubble have no idea how much power such an ideology carries. In this way of thinking, there is this deep conviction that we must be RIGHT. Being wrong meant judgment, shame and a hell of a lot worse consequences. We Fundamentalists had to be right and that meant anyone who disagreed with us must be wrong.

Again – if you haven’t been there, you have no idea and I get that so, please keep reading and hear me out. I’m mostly writing this for my Christian Right friends but I’m hoping my Secular Left friends might also find some new insights. And even my Christian Left friends. And maybe some renewed compassion for- and from – all of us

Right and Wrong are interesting categories. They are appropriate descriptions in some fields, but even mathematics reminds us how broad truth can be. 2+2=4 but also 3+1 and 12-8. Right can be right in a variety of ways.

When we function within more subjective categories like philosophy or theology, right and wrong almost lose their meaning. Beliefs, doctrines and dogmas express something about our human experience rather than naming any sort of empirical reality.

Throughout history, humans have misused these subjective constructions as foundations, as eternal truths true for all people in all times. Ideology then becomes a basis for relationship and our beliefs define who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong.

If I am right, you must be wrong.

If my beliefs are orthodox, your beliefs must be heresy.

This black and white, dualistic thinking has plagued us since our human beginnings and has been a source of many of our human conflicts.

Of course such thinking did not originate with the modern American Fundamentalist and Evangelical community, but I think today’s Evangelicals have been infected with a particular kind of feverish black and white purity. The topic of abortion, for example, cannot consist of any grey areas; there can only be one narrow right perspective for some of these people. Their passion blinds them to the equal passion other people feel about the health and welfare of women and families.

Because we are complex human beings, our human issues are ever complex and multifaceted. Labels of right and wrong are unhelpful and even unhealthy. Instead of “if I’m right, you must be wrong” thinking, let’s venture more “I truly believe I’m right but I admit I could also be a little bit wrong. Tell me why you believe you are right. I’m curious.”

“Ortho-doxy” means “right thinking, right doctrine, right belief.” Since I grew up with an obligation to orthodoxy, I understand its powerful pull. But as I have learned more and grown on my spiritual journey, I have come to understand that ortho-praxis carries more weight in all my various human relationships. AND (I will argue) in my relationship with God.

Right practice matters more than right belief.

Throughout our Christian Scripture, the overwhelming call is to DO and to BE, not to think or simply believe.

To act like Christ, to become more and more like Christ.

To live lives marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Like Jesus.

To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and welcome the stranger and protect widows and orphans. Like Jesus.

Right practice matters more than right belief.

Therefore this is my plea to my Evangelical friends: when you look at the rest of us Christians, please measure us according to the life of Jesus, not according to your own particular orthodoxy. “Heretic” (as some would label us) smacks of judgment and does not invite relationship.

When you evaluate the practice and policies of politicians, consider how they measure up to the divine call to lead with wisdom and to practice justice for “the least of these.”

And when you judge your own faithfulness, please step outside your bubble and try to see yourselves as others see you. This is hard and even painful but it is also painfully true that many people reject Christ because of the Christianity so many of us practice so poorly.

We all need to ask ourselves: What do our lives say about the One we claim to follow? What do others see in us: authenticity or self-deception? Welcome or rejection? Love or judgment?

The power of the gospel is that we do not need to be right; we only need to be true. True to the call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Our “Samaritan” neighbors. Our gay and trans neighbors. Our “Red and Yellow, Black and White” neighbors. The neighbors to the left of us or to the right of us or to the south of us. The neighbors who read the Bible differently or don’t read the Bible at all. Even our “enemy” neighbors.

To love others as God loves us – generously, lavishly, unconditionally.

To love others as God loves us – with practical, physical acts of goodness, kindness and compassion.

To love all others, not just some others.

The “fundamentals” of faith are not beliefs or creeds or propositions. The fundamental life of faith is what Jesus says it is: Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. And the other “like unto it” – love the neighbor as we love ourselves. Every fundamental law, rule and commandment is summed up right here: in the core fundamental of love.

This is the only “right” that matters.

 

See Charlotte’s companion blog: When the Right is Always Wrong and the Left is Always Right.

When the Right is Always Wrong and the Left is Always Right

I hear this attitude a lot in my left-of-center circles. And even worse than the old “I’m right and you’re wrong” kind of comments, these days in our angry, polarized society, I’m hearing way too much “I’m right and you’re stupid” disdain meted out by liberal (so-called “open minded”) people.

This is what I call our liberal arrogance. (Stay with me here; this is for us progressives. I’ll spend another future blog talking about conservative self-righteousness. But right now, I need to say this to my friends on the left.)

It is absolutely normal for us humans to believe we are right. We couldn’t bear the moral tension if we knew we were investing ourselves in something clearly false. So of course, when any of us thinks through our positions, we come up with a stance that seems most reasonable and true based on our personality and experience. Of course we think we are right.

The problem comes when some of us also believe that ONLY we can be right on a particular issue. That ONLY our way of making sense makes sense in the world. Continue reading When the Right is Always Wrong and the Left is Always Right

Who is My Neighbor? Who is My Enemy?

I’ve come to the understanding that “enemy” is a social construct. I think humans are born with a need for community, for connection and our first instincts are to welcome and trust all with whom we come into contact. There is no “other” when we begin this journey; we all are human.

But somewhere in the process of clarifying that age-old “who is my neighbor” question, we think we need to decide who is in our circle and who is not. Tribal tendencies demand specification: we want to know exactly where we stand in the various social hierarchies we invent for ourselves.

Of course there is another definition for the word “enemy” and we humans quickly learn not to trust those who do harm. But the act of doing harm to another begins in the mind; there is a cognitive shift in basic understandings about what it means to be human. Someone who acts as an enemy to another has already placed them outside their circle and named them as “other.” They justify their actions based on contrived categories of who is in and who is out. Then the one who has been hurt responds to that mistreatment by doing the same thing: if we have been damaged by X or Y or Z, then everyone who is like them must also be our enemy.

It is a vicious cycle. Not at all neat or logical. We humans can be a complex mess.

Nelson Mandela was honored recently at a 100th birth day celebration in South Africa. Here is someone who taught himself how to break free of the vicious cycle and his life still serves as an example to all of us want to learn a better way.

President Obama spoke at the event in Johannesburg and reminded us what a whole and wholesome human looks like.

Mandela lived with complexity.

In prison, he studied Afrikaans so that he could better understand the people who were jailing him. And when he got out of prison, he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build.

“To make peace with an enemy,” he wrote, “one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.”

Nelson Mandela’s work for reconciliation was genius.

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission shepherded more than 20,000 people through a process of naming the truth about some of the acts of violence perpetrated during apartheid and then forgiving those “enemies.” This is difficult, painful work but it is the only way to move from enemy to neighbor.

Forgiveness (in order to be authentic and healing) must include the acknowledgment of the damage done. Here is the “truth” part. We name the violence, we name the pain; we don’t excuse it or diminish it. Only then can we move on and let the pain go so that we are not shackled to its crippling power any longer.

Only then can we transform an enemy into a partner. Only then can we recreate a community of neighbors.

In the New Testament, Jesus told a parable about what it means to be “neighbor.” It started with a lawyer asking “who is my neighbor” but Jesus turned the question by asking: “who is the neighbor?”

Who in the famous story of the Good Samaritan showed mercy? Who was the one who acted like the neighbor?

Our world desperately needs more neighbors and fewer enemies. If we are to reclaim our humanity – the best of what it means to be human – then some of us must step up and grow up and reach out to our “enemies” with mercy, courage and compassion.

More of us need to redraw the circles of our community to include “others.” Other colors, other languages, other religions, other customs, other socioeconomic classes, other politics … It’s high time the grown ups start deconstructing our old social constructs and begin to create a new world for our children.

Here. This is our challenge.

Who will be the neighbor?

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

Truth!

I really struggle with this question: why do so many people believe the unbelievable?

This sad reality is nothing new. Con men, scam artists and snake oil salesmen have been using and abusing people’s trust for centuries. These hucksters seem to have a special ability to target the naive, to tell them what they want to hear and then entrap them in the web of fantasy they have spun.

They swallow the lie “hook, line and sinker,” we say.

When President Obama spoke at Nelson Mandela’s 100th birth day celebration, he spoke to the increasing danger of this culture of deception.

Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.

We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they’re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more …

The current problem is two-fold: leaders and manipulators who lie in order to deceive coupled with people who believe and even defend both the deceptions and the deceivers.

Historian Will Durant once said: “It may be true that you can’t fool all the people all the time, but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”

Mr. Obama went on to say:

We are seeing the promotion of anti-intellectualism and the rejection of science from leaders who find critical thinking and data somehow politically inconvenient. And, as with the denial of rights, the denial of facts runs counter to democracy …

The problem we have with these snake oil leaders – both political and religious – is huge, but that is not really my question here. Again, I ponder: why do so many people believe the unbelievable?

I have a dear friend who thinks this current president is the most ‘down to earth, honest president since Ronald Reagan.’ He dismisses fact-check articles that contradict the president’s claims and he earnestly believes it is the media that is lying while the president is telling the truth. This is a good-hearted person but he has swallowed this hook, line and sinker.

I was raised in a fundamentalist church that indoctrinated me in a very narrow way of thinking that they called ‘truth.’ As I have changed and grown over the years, I realize much of their ‘truth’ is simply not true. Of course they are entitled to their opinions, but when religious people claim that a particular doctrinal or theological perspective is ultimate truth – this is heresy.

And to deny critical thinking and provable facts is deadly.

But there for awhile, I was the poster child for this denominational heresy. I bought it “hook, line and sinker.” My blog, Mental Gymnastics, considers this perverted reality and ponders our human ability to bend over backwards to keep believing what we believe.

So one theory is: once we commit to believing a particular thing, we will twist all incoming information in order to make it fit with our presuppositions. We desperately need to be “right.”

Another possibility concerns the community to which we are committed. Sometimes a person soaks up the beliefs of others without examination. When we put our trust in someone, we also tend to trust their belief system. And if nearly everyone in our particular bubble believes a certain way, then we might assume that way must be “right.” Or a different angle, sometimes people identify themselves in opposition to what someone else believes; if “they” believe “that” then it has to be “wrong.” Believing the opposite must be “true.”

I think maybe my friend became so upset with me because he saw me challenging not a belief, not a president but him personally. His self-esteem is so intertwined with his beliefs that he has no ability to hear criticisms objectively.

It is hard work to root out beliefs that entwine themselves within the deep places of our soul. It is risky work to challenge beliefs that we share with a community in which we are immersed.

My own journey has taken years and continues to this day.

My journey brought me to a place where I now see truth, not in blacks and whites, but in a rainbow.  My journey has taught me that I can only see reality through my particular lens of experience, personality and perspective. My journey has taught me to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. To ask and then wait and not try to force the answers. My journey has taught me that I am often wrong. About a lot of things. And therefore I keep having to learn humility.

So what do I do in response to this culture of deception that has caught my friends in its web?

For one thing, I will keep calling out leaders who keep lying to us. I won’t back down on that commitment.

But for my friends whom I love, my approach will be more gentle.

I was finally able to identify my own flawed understandings and begin my journey into a rainbow world – not because someone berated me or ridiculed me or tried to force me. Rather I was able to change because I had people in my life who were safe and patient and kind.

That’s how I want to be with my friends who are being deceived into buying the snake oil. I believe they will be hurt more than they can imagine and so I want to be there for them when they need me.

It makes no sense to burn our bridges. It makes immense sense to build them everywhere we can.

 

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

Will Durant quote from BrainyQuotes

 

Real Power From the Bottom Up

Top Down Power is the default position for us humans and this has been our story throughout our history. America has mostly been an exception to the rule, except that lately we have been watching authoritarian power infect our government, decreasing the authority that We The People have been accustomed to in this democratic republic.

When people give themselves over to Top Down Power, we are giving ourselves over to a kind of eternal childhood. We want someone else to protect us, to take care of us, to make the hard decisions and exempt us from the consequences. Living in this Neverland is much easier than growing up and taking responsibility for our own lives.

In every society, it’s the grown ups who step up and recognize the authority inherent within themselves and their communities. This kind of authority is not “authoritarian” – attempting to rule over others. Rather it is an egalitarian authority that understands everyone in a community has something to offer. And everyone has something to learn.

When President Barack Obama spoke at Nelson Mandela’s 100th birth day celebration, he reminded us of the power of this Bottom Up authority.

For those of us who are interested in strengthening democracy…it’s time for us to stop paying all of our attention to the world’s capitals and the centers of power and to start focusing more on the grassroots, because that’s where democratic legitimacy comes from. Not from the top down, not from abstract theories, not just from experts, but from the bottom up. Knowing the lives of those who are struggling.

As a community organizer, I learned as much from a laid-off steel worker in Chicago or a single mom in a poor neighborhood that I visited as I learned from the finest economists in the Oval Office.

Democracy means being in touch and in tune with life as it’s lived in our communities, and that’s what we should expect from our leaders, and it depends upon cultivating leaders at the grassroots who can help bring about change and implement it on the ground and can tell leaders in fancy buildings, this isn’t working down here.

THIS! We need more of this: grassroots leaders confronting fancy-building leaders with truth. Grown ups from the bottom empowered with the authority of the community challenging the authoritarianism of those who pretend they know what is best for the community.

I see two movements at work in our society and in our politics right now. One, a grassroots movement drawn from the power of a bold and confident people. The other, a movement fed by fear.

It is a fearful people who want someone else to take care of them and so fall into the trap of giving over their power to tyrants. It is a confident people who embrace their own power, stand with courage and en-courage others to tap into their own inherent strength.

It is this movement of Bottom Up Power that must carry the day in America if we are to be both good and great. We must believe in the rightness of our common cause to create a society that is just and equitable for everyone. We must reject conventional notions of power and buy into the alternative conviction that “Right makes might.”

Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around. Ultimately, the better story can win out and as strong as Madiba’s spirit may have been, he would not have sustained that hope had he been alone in the struggle. Part of what buoyed him up was he knew that each year, the ranks of freedom fighters were replenishing, young men and women; black and Indian and white, from across the countryside, across the continent, around the world, who in those most difficult days would keep working on behalf of his vision.

And that’s what we need right now, we don’t just need one leader, we don’t just need one inspiration, what we badly need right now is that collective spirit.

We badly need this collective spirit.

But too often these days, this spirit is threatened with partisanship, suspicion and fear. Even those of us who carry a glimpse of the vision of Bottom Up Power fall prey to the demons of division and blame. “It’s someone else’s fault” is not the voice of a grown up. We desperately need more grown ups stepping up and speaking up.

Interestingly, it is some of our young people who have been our most functional mature leaders throughout the world’s history. Here in America, young people have been leading us to reasonable gun policies, responsible environmental policies and policies for equitable civil rights, women’s rights and human rights.

President Obama concluded his speech with a clarion call for grassroots leadership and Nelson Mandela’s own words of confidence in the younger generation:

So, young people, my message to you is simple: keep believing, keep marching, keep building, keep raising your voice. Every generation has the opportunity to remake the world. Mandela said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.”

This reminds me of the words of confidence spoken by the Hebrew prophet so many centuries ago:

And a little child shall lead them…

Bottom Up Power is the only true power.

 

 

Here are some wonderful articles:

Five Powerful Movements Fueled by Young Activists.

Five Times Young People Changed the World.

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

 

Make America Kind Again

A photo of this cap made the rounds in cyberspace not long after the 2016 presidential election.

“Make America Kind Again” was the plea.

The campaign to be “great again” evidently resonated with enough voters in enough states that the Electoral College was tipped against the popular vote. So now we have what we have here in America – I would say: neither greatness nor goodness.

A Pandora’s Box of ugliness has been opened in our society. Of course people have always been unkind to one another but just a few years ago, regular Americans seemed to have better manners. There was a common civility that helped us navigate our personal opinions so that – at least in public – we mostly treated acquaintances and strangers with a basic politeness.

That began to fall apart with accusations of “political correctness” so that saying things in such a way as not to offend others was perceived as a censure on MY ability to say whatever I wanted. MY rights were more important than any one else’s feelings. Circumspection and kindness in our conversation were ridiculed as a weakness.

During the eight years that America had its first mixed race president, unkindness accelerated. Criticisms of any president’s politics and policies are nothing new, but somehow too many Americans grew more comfortable believing and repeating rampant ugly untruths about this particular first family. America’s shadow side of racism came boldly into the light.

Now, with our current president’s life long habit of disrespect and derision, even more Americans have lost a habit of common public civility. My blogger friend, Egberto Willies, records incidents of ugliness he ascribes to the “Trump Effect.” The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes and acts of ugliness; their HateWatch project documents an alarming increase since 2016.

When President Obama spoke at the 100th anniversary celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth, he alluded to the ugliness that all too often marks and mars our human nature. But this stain doesn’t have to ruin us. Obama said of Mr. Mandela:

Madiba reminds us that: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

I believe this. I believe human nature bends towards love more than it does toward hate. So how do we help each other re-learn how to love? How do we unlearn hate? How do we reclaim kindness?

Baby steps, I will say. Small but courageous acts of goodness. Living as examples of kindness in the face of public ugliness.

I think there are many of our fellow Americans who truly want to make America both great and good, and I believe these two values are completely compatible. Actually, they are more than compatible; these values must go hand in hand.

These baby steps, this endurance and persistence in the face of our current climate of unkindness must become more and more outspoken if we are to make America both great and good. Those of us who share this vision realize that might does NOT make right. And we recognize that this vision of great goodness has adversaries both on the Right and on the Left. That is why we must be diligent to call out corrosive, abusive unkindness wherever we see it.

[Nelson Mandela’s] power actually grew during the years [of his imprisonment] – and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that if you stick to what’s true, if you know what’s in your heart, and you’re willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way around…

“It might not happen next week … or even in our lifetime…”

Yes, things are going backwards right now but the pendulum will swing again. The arc of the universe will keep bending towards justice. The light will keep shining in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

I believe this. If America would be great, then we must commit to being good. As Mr. Obama points us:

Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star.

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

Do Unto Others…

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

We call it the Golden Rule and its wisdom shows up in most every world religion.

So why has the human race never really figured out how to live by this rule of life? Maybe because throughout history most people just flat don’t agree with it.

Other rules of life are much more popular:

Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.

Do unto others before they do it unto you.

Might makes right.

The end justifies the means.

The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies. (Genghis Khan)

These are the rules that have ruled human existence since our earliest beginnings. This is the reason human history is so screwed up.

But even in the dismal darkness of our past, some humans found the wisdom and the courage to live life with an alternative vision: a way of seeing and being in the world that is up-side-down and inside-out from the conventional wisdom. A golden thread of kindness, forgiveness and grace.

Nelson Mandela was one of those people.

July 2018 has been the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth and President Barack Obama delivered the annual lecture at the celebration in Johannesburg. It is a remarkable speech in honor of a remarkable man.

We know the story of Mandela’s thirty years in prison: his years of solitary confinement, of breaking stone with a pick axe in the heat of the day. We know how history reversed itself and saw him elected president of this nation that had once persecuted him. We know that he shepherded healing and reconciliation against impossible odds.

But my question is how? How was Nelson Mandela able to overcome the betrayals and bitterness of his past, move past them into healing and wholeness and life?

The only answer I come up with is the up-side-down power of the Golden Rule. The mysterious energy of love.

President Obama said:

When he got out of prison, he extended a hand to those who had jailed him, because he knew that they had to be a part of the democratic South Africa that he wanted to build. “To make peace with an enemy,” he wrote, “one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.”

Treating the other as we ourselves wish to be treated is a subversive act. We turn the tables on our adversaries and surprise them with respect.

Is this hard? Oh yeah. Immensely hard. Unimaginably difficult. But it is only this power of grace and generosity that has the real, authentic and lasting power to overcome greed and hatred.

Like rocks in a stream, shaped into smooth, sculpted pieces of art, the hard, sharp ways of an enemy can be softened into something beautiful.

Life water on rock, the forces of love can move mountains.

It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes.

And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world.

Mr. Obama’s speech was not all joy; he reminded us of the current challenges here in America and around the world. They are legion.

Strongman politics ridicule servant leadership. Tribal mentalities resist inclusion of anyone who is perceived as “other.” Fear rises to meet the fearmongering of manipulative con men. Trust is invested in walls and arsenals while distrust divides friends and families. Democracy has taken a detour.

But Nelson Mandela reminds us: there is another way.

Even in the dismal darkness of our past and the confusing fog of our present, there continues to be a golden thread woven throughout our human story. Whenever people choose the alternative vision of love, grace and compassion, that golden thread becomes more powerful and more brilliant.

Whenever people choose to weave our human story with the golden thread of love, we help craft a better world.

WE must be the weavers of this better way. This is ours to do. This is our time.

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

Image of weaving is here (Lucilla Wolske)

The Long Walk

“Journey” is a powerful motif in many of our human stories. In the tales we tell we often see ourselves as people in process; people on the way. Sometimes we know where we want to go but often we only have the vaguest notion of where we will end up.

Because life is a journey with zigs and zags, with mountain tops and valleys, with stormy days or peaceful nights, our best stories reflect on the meaning of where we have been, where we are going and where we find ourselves on the way.

Joseph Campbell studied Hero Myths from many cultures and taught us how this arch type functions – not only in our stories but within our lives individually and together as societies. The Hero’s Journey brings transformation. Traveling into the unknown, experiencing and surviving the dangers, finding wider wisdom that puts our lives into perspective – this long walk of the Hero’s Journey brings her “home” again; but the person who returns has become stronger, wiser and more resilient than the person who first began the journey.

“The Long Walk Home” is a movie set in Montgomery Alabama during the bus boycott of the 60’s. The title refers to the long miles Black housemaids had to walk to and from work when they refused to ride the city buses. But the second meaning alludes to the journey two women make together – one Black and one White – as they helped carve new paths for America during the Civil Rights Movement.

“The Long Walk to Freedom” is the title of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and President Obama made frequent reference to the “long walk” of Mandela’s life in the speech he gave on the occasion of Mandela’s 100th birth day.

It was in service of this long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity that Nelson Mandela devoted his life. At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland – a fight to end apartheid, a fight to ensure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised non-white citizens. But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger. He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.

Mandela’s hero’s journey – like all hero journeys – included hardship, obstacles and detours. Probably he had a vision of where he wanted to go on this long walk but I doubt even he could have imagined where he would end up.

This notion of a “long walk” offers the perfect metaphor for concerned Americans during these recent days of obstacles and detours. Those of us who are resisting this administration and its policies struggle to keep our balance in the turmoil of each day’s tumultuous news cycles. We are tired, angry and on the brink of burn out.

That’s exactly why we must emulate the long walk of those resisters who have gone before us. We need to learn from them; learn how to keep on walking the walk, keep on protecting our hearts, keep on keeping on.

Mr. Obama reminded us how important this is.

We have to follow Madiba’s example of persistence and of hope.

It is tempting to give in to cynicism: to believe that recent shifts in global politics are too powerful to push back; that the pendulum has swung permanently. Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the 90s, now you are hearing people talk about end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism.

Because, we’ve been through darker times, we’ve been in lower valleys and deeper valleys. Yes, by the end of his life, Madiba embodied the successful struggle for human rights, but the journey was not easy, it wasn’t pre-ordained …

America has walked through the valley of the shadow of death many times as a nation. This detour is dangerous and damaging but it need not be the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism. I believe these days offer a powerful opportunity to learn new ways and carve new paths for the future just as the heroes of our past did for us.

In order to do that, though, we must remember the journey. We are not going to get “there” any time soon. We will still be in process for a long time to come, but we trust that this challenging process will make us stronger, wiser and more resilient.

So we keep a steady pace, run when we need to and rest when we can. We find companions along the way so that we may both give and receive encouragement. We accept the reality of this current hardship, knowing we can’t wish it away. Blaming others is not helpful; we build alliances instead. And we don’t waste our breath cursing this darkness; we use our energy to light more candles.

This is not a 100 yard dash; this is a long walk. So let’s lace up our walking shoes and continue the journey with persistence and hope. We must all be heroes these days.

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Sometimes I think about my grandparents and all the dizzying progress they saw in their lifetimes. Automobiles to airplanes to space ships then experiencing an American walking on the moon. Indoor plumbing, refrigeration, television to powerful computers small enough to fit into their pockets. An explosive awareness and expansion of civil rights and human rights. Longer life spans and the eradication of some diseases. Inter-connection that reaches all the way across the globe.

But with all this progress, in many other ways our world has gone backwards. The 20th Century was the bloodiest in human history as we created more effective ways to kill and torture one another. Lies and disinformation “travel halfway around the world before truth can get its boots on.” We have generated immense world wealth but the rich keep on getting richer and the poor only get poorer.

President Barack Obama noted these inconsistencies in his recent speech at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birth day.

We have to admit that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken during these last several decades at international conferences or in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away. They were never fully dislodged.

Caste differences still impact the life chances of people on the Indian subcontinent. Ethnic and religious differences still determine who gets opportunity from the Central Europe to the Gulf. It is a plain fact that racial discrimination still exists in both the United States and South Africa. And it is also a fact that the accumulated disadvantages of years of institutionalized oppression have created yawning disparities in income, and in wealth, and in education, and in health, in personal safety, in access to credit. Women and girls around the world continue to be blocked from positions of power and authority. They continue to be prevented from getting a basic education. They are disproportionately victimized by violence and abuse. They’re still paid less than men for doing the same work. That’s still happening. Economic opportunity – for all the magnificence of the global economy, all the shining skyscrapers that have transformed the landscape around the world – entire neighborhoods, entire cities, entire regions, entire nations have been bypassed.

In other words, for far too many people, the more things have changed, the more things stayed the same.

As the world has changed in dramatic ways, human nature has mostly stayed the same. The world continues to change but the basic nature of people – not so much.

There still are (as there have always been) the good, the bad and the ugly. There still are givers and takers, saints and sinners, beauties and beasts. This mixed reality about human beings is nothing new and it shouldn’t surprise us.

But I think it does discourage us. I think many of us still believe humanity should be growing wiser, kinder, more united. This kind of growth toward goodness is what many of us call “progress.”

But evidently too many people still believe human progress should be measured as power and privilege.

Two visions of the world are at work here and these dramatically different understandings have been shaping human history for centuries.

Those of us who live in the Judeo-Christian story listen to the description Mr. Obama offers of the “structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation …” and we recognize the world Jesus lived in 2,000 years ago.

The Roman Empire was one of the “great” empires of history. Its roads and architecture still stand as impressive witness to its genius. Its innovations of politics in this ancient republic still influence and inform nations to this day. But, in that society, kindness and compassion and inclusion were considered flaws and weaknesses; they were not virtues and they did not indicate “progress.” In that world, might made right. Privilege meant using and manipulating other people to increase your own advantage. Power was decimating your adversaries.

This is the world to which the Christ came preaching a new vision of “kingdom.” God’s reign as Sovereign Lord, he taught us, brings love and self-sacrifice. In this “kingdom of God,” the last are first, the least are the greatest and the master is servant to all. Privilege brings increased responsibility to care for those who are less privileged. Power is to be used in the service of others.

It’s a really strange vision, when you think about it. Completely counter-intuitive. Even so, from this vision of how the world works, something new has begun among humankind. Something absolutely up-side-down has taken root and is growing in all sorts of unexpected people and places.

What fascinates me these days is that too many people who wear the name of Christ actually seem to live their lives out of the old structures of hierarchical power and personal privilege instead of living the values of the Christ. On the other hand, many people who would never call themselves “Christian” are often those who actually live out his vision of love, compassion and selflessness.

I wonder how we can change the old truth that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” I wonder how we humans can break the old cycles of hierarchy; how we can change the old definitions of “power” and “privilege.”

A famous parable Jesus told gives us insight: a farmer sowed his seed and as he sowed, some seed landed in thistle patches, some landed in rocky places, some landed on the beaten down track of the road. Of course the seed could not take root in places like that. BUT much of the seed fell on fertile ground and in its time, the seed produced an abundant crop and a great harvest.

We will probably never be able to change those whose hearts are hard, shallow and unresponsive. So instead of wasting our energy, let’s find those who are open to change, who are weary of the old structures, who are confident that a new day is dawning. Let’s find those partners and keep sowing seeds of love, hope and peace. In its own time, I have to believe this harvest of goodness will dislodge even the most persistent thorny and stony ways of our humanity.

I have to believe that, at some point in our history, the more things change the more they will become new and good and helpful and hopeful.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

 

 

Read President Obama’s 2018 speech here.

Watch it here. (1 hour 24 minutes)