Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cast me gently, into morning, for the night has been unkind

When I first heard Sarah McLachlan’s Answer, I was headlong into the space of mourning my mother.  A year in which I had to learn again how to smile.  It was dark, and it was difficult.  With the birth of my eldest child, that above all, was necessary.  Life, then, brought an end to death.   But her matchless voice came thrumming into my head again on the evening of November 13th, as I watched Paris devoured.  And as the night wore on, and more was revealed, and the concern of the world grew, I saw profile pictures change.  Urgent prayers for peace.  

The day after. Davide Martello plays "Imagine"
outside the Bataclan concert hall

When the world hurts, as a compassionate people, we hurt along with it.  And it is reasonable, even just perhaps, that it is pointed out where else the world is hurting: Palestine, Israel, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Kenya because so much attention was given to France

The hypocrisy these people pointed out in the outpouring of love and goodwill for France following November 13th turned in me a point of anger. 

First, because all compassion is warranted, all compassion and call to prayer is necessary because it breeds in it a need to know what has happened and what can be done for healing.  Whether it is France that turns an eye toward the outer world or a neighbor who is ill.  Compassion breeds courage, courage breeds 
conviction, conviction breeds change

And secondly, the Western world may not know about these other countries because we have turned a blind eye toward it.  And because, for many of these places in the world, bombings, attacks, civil unrest, rebellion, revolution are all just as common as you or I going to the grocery or turning on the computer.  It is a part and parcel of their lives.  The suffering is outrageous.  The losses are extravagant.  The pain is palpable and the witness is…absent.

A few years back we had to control spending anywhere we could.  We got rid of our cable.  This, for me, was not a hardship because I loved to read much more than watch television, except for one area: the news.  When I was a young girl, we watched the news, my parents and I, while having dinner.  All I wanted to do was see Entertainment Tonight.  But my father was enraged at the mention of it, “How do you expect to know what is going on if you do not see the news or read the paper?”  

Because of where we lived, just outside of D.C., world news was local news.  I was required, weekly, to report to him about the top headlines, read the front page of the Washington Post and tell him what I saw happening.  It does not sound unreasonable, reading it back now; I’m sure.  But I hated every minute.  No one else I knew had such strict parameters for knowing any kind of event.  But like anything else, it became a part of my life.  A backdrop that made me pay attention.  

As I got older, this practice waxed and waned depending on where I was or what I was doing.  The papers changed as did the programs I saw, but it was always there.  When we let go of cable though, my news had to be sought after via Internet.  And it was much more difficult, I was used to reading the paper online but not culling together headlines from different avenues.  Because every single outlet had an agenda, it was my practice to see three different programs.  And I had to sift through a lot of headlines that had nothing to do with anything happening in these countries for which conflict was common.  Kardashians, what a celebrity thought of an issue—these were the most important points of information to go along with my coffee.  News was buried; it had to be found.  What local legislators were doing, what policy initiatives were at stake, what our own administration was considering, these were the grains of what I needed to know. 

Three Days in September
What I have found in my adult life, particularly as a parent, and someone for whom loved ones are literally scattered across the globe, these measures were necessary.  The people with whom I could discuss these issues with were growing smaller though—usually just my husband and family.  “Yes,” my husband said, “what’s happening in the camps in Afghanistan is disgusting, but what happened in Beslan was—”  “But, the abuse of the children by the Afghan leaders—” “No, you have no idea.  The Chechen Mujahideen strapped bombs on these people.  School children.  Mothers.  Teachers.  They gave them no water.  They did not allow them to use the bathroom.  It was…” he stopped.  “It was horror.  Of the worst kind.  330 dead, mostly children.”  I said nothing.  “You don’t want to know.  It was…you don’t want to know,” he repeated softly. Vague memories of the atrocity, I only remember little of Beslan…did you know?

And that is my point, to combat our fear, which is at the heart of every conflict; knowledge is the only answer.  Hope outweighs fear and knowledge gives it its voice.  I have stopped watching morning network news because it has, by and large, become entertainment news.  They give the audience what we want. 

During WWII, families together poured over maps and eagerly awaited the next word via newsreels and the paper. It was not entertainment; it was necessary knowledge.  I have heard too many times that news is not watched because “it is too depressing.”  And often, it is, but it is necessary.  We must bear witness to the world’s pain.  We must
understand the origin of the fear that made this conflict rise.  A hashtag will not solve this crisis.  Understanding will.

I have come to a conclusion about the news I was seeing as two types of garbage: compound and compost.  The first was fodder, celebrity unhappiness and ridiculous lifestyle reporting that emitted nothing but methane gas that was toxic to both the environment and my mind.  The latter was difficult to hear, absolutely, but when contained, broke down into fertile black loam onto which ideas and surety could be cultivated. 
© photo: David Beaulieu

It is up to us which kind we will continue to consume: 
the toxicity that will kill us 
the building blocks to an informed populace.

The only way out of the fear which cripples us into complacency is knowledge.  And it is more accessible than ever before.  Watch the news.  Demand the facts.  Know your representatives.  Consider the issues that face your community, the nation and the world before the election.  Don’t allow a header on a post on social media sway you.  Dig deeper.  Commit to participation.  Just like any other change, begin slowly.  Watch one world news program a day for 30 minutes.  Pick a country in conflict; see what you can learn.  

Many colleges have courses in the histories of these countries.  Many syllabi are available online and professors are available via email.  Look at a University site, see what course may be offered, email the professor with questions of what reading you can do to understand the history of the conflict.  Arm yourself with knowledge to put an end to fear.  And finally, talk about it.  Discuss it.  Consider another opinion; allow it to sharpen your own determination.  In the rhythm of my days, a group of friends come together and we do just that.  We discuss and we highlight what is happening both locally and globally.  Every two weeks since the beginning of September, my friends and I come together and try to wrestle with whatever we know to be true. 

As we come together with an understanding of what is at stake, we can come up with solutions that make sense.  We can combat fear with informed hope.  The names that have become synonymous with rage and annihilation cannot perform their acts on an informed populace.  They are counting on our fear and hopelessness.  This small number, this brotherhood of madness, can enact their plans of intimidation and destruction because of our collective antipathy and stasis.  They are willing to go to any lengths to see their message of intimidation come to life, pay any price, succeed no matter what the cost. 

We can bear witness, and we can be armed with love and compassion and information and respectful dialogue.  We can stop the rise of violence with these powerful tools that we have.  And we have to.  If there is any doubt, stop what you are doing and look at your children.  They cannot inherit this.

Keisha Thomas protects Klansman

Syrian Refugee Crisis

Sister Angelique Namaika 

It seems like an insurmountable task, doesn’t it?  When you look at the state of the world, the pain, the horror, the complicated histories, the voices that say no understanding has reached them so they needed to find better and larger ways of being heard.  Yet, this is a template that has been used over and over and over again.  It is not new, opening the Bible will offer example upon example of it.  Being given no place or voice, unrest arises, bands of connection over it form, negotiations are not offered, so control is taken by force.  Any protest is violently silenced.  Until there is one clear winner.  And that is where it all falls away.  Because there is a loud swelling of rebellion, that disturbs the surface and will not let a city built on fear, intimidation, violence and terror stand.  We are its turbulence.  Our courage, our compassion, our hope and our love.  All in direct and exceeding proportion to the forces that seek to subdue them.  We can change this pattern, through knowledge, through informed action.

I once heard a reporter say, “If you want to know what someone believes in, ask him what he’s willing to die for.”  We already know God’s answer.  What’s ours?

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