Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Do We Do Now?

These are dark times in the USA. Donald Trump has been elected president, despite the fact that Hilary Clinton garnered over 2 million more votes (thanks Electoral College!) In the wake of his election, hate crimes - most explicitly done in his name - have skyrocketed. They are occurring everywhere, even here in Spokane, where I live. Trump has appointed a man, Steve Bannon, whose media empire is the “voice of the alt-right” (his own words) and his nominee for Attorney General was once deemed “too racist” to serve as a judge. Muslims, people of color, the LGBTQI community, all are living in fear for their safety, their civil rights, their very lives. Trump has hinted to the journalism community that he wants to be portrayed positively, and for them to not report on the negative side of his presidency. This is how fascism begins. I truly fear for my country, for my neighbors, for my friends, for the world. 

In light of all this, what is a person to do? It’s easy to look at it all and feel overwhelmed by the darkness. But we are not helpless. We are not alone. There are millions of people who oppose Trump and his racist, bigoted ways. We can definitely make a difference, and it can be quite simple.

First of all, do not remain silent in the face of hate crimes. This kind of stuff cannot ever be considered normal for our society. Prior to Trump, these people hid under the bushes, rightly ashamed of their thoughts and actions. For them, they see his election as giving them the stamp of approval and empowering them to act on their heinous views. We must always - ALWAYS - speak out against such acts. Silence implies consent. Speak out!

We must oppose any government attempt to restrict or diminish the civil rights of our fellow citizens. Registering Muslims, deporting or rounding them up must be vigorously opposed at every step. We cannot make the same mistake we did during WWII, when millions of Japanese Americans lost their homes and businesses as they were arrested and incarcerated in internment camps. The government will try to couch these actions in patriotic terms: “For the good of the nation” or “For our national security.” But these are just attempts to sweeten what is a heinous and very un-American act. We cannot fall for such lies.

We must oppose any government attempt to deny entry to any immigrant based solely on their religion. The Syrian refugees are fleeing a hell-hole of a war zone. They are not Islamic terrorists. The US already has one of the strictest vetting policy for immigrants. It has kept us safe so far, and will continue to do so. But America was built on the very idea of opening her arms to refugees and immigrants. Our Statue of Liberty proclaims this in no uncertain terms, and our history shows this to be true. Unless you are a member of a Native American tribe, you are here because your ancestors immigrated to this country, perhaps by force, but they immigrated here, nonetheless. All that we have accomplished as a nation was accomplished by immigrants and refugees. To close our borders is to deny who we are as a nation - to deny the very principles upon which this nation was founded.

Most importantly, we must act to counter the tenor of hate and fear that has been unleashed and fed by Trump’s campaign and election. It is so easy to see the hatred in other people and to react with more hatred and revulsion. But as Martin Luther King, Jr famously said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” And Jesus Christ taught us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. So, if we are to conquer the hatred we must respond only with love. We must seek to understand why someone is acting out in hate. Most often, their hatred is based on some kind of fear, and that fear is almost always unfounded, though they don’t see it that way. But if we can understand the fear that is driving the hate, we can see them as our brothers and sisters, and not the enemy. For as surely as we think of them as “them”, as something “other”, then we will have failed to respond in love.

I want to live in such a way that peace and love are not just motivating factors, but are the bedrock, the foundation of who I am as a person. I want to live a life full of grace - grace received by God, grace given unto myself, and grace given to those I meet. I want my life to be a mirror to the mystery of the relationship of the Trinity, played out in my relationship with other humans. The three “persons” of the Trinity are in an eternal dance of interdependence. When I can live in such a way that I know and feel my interconnectedness with everyone else, then there is no “other” - there is only “us.” In this way, I recognize the brokenness of those who are currently expressing hatred and bigotry, and therefore do not seek to overpower them, but to come alongside them, and help them find their interconnectedness to others. When we truly understand that we are all connected, and that what hurts you also hurts me, then we act in such a way to ensure that all people are valuable, all people are worthy, all people deserve our protection and our love.

How do we do this in every day life? For me, it is the daily interactions with people I meet - the clerks in the grocery store, the people at the post office, those that I am in line with somewhere. In the past, as an introvert, i would pretty much ignore these people. The interactions with clerks never involved eye contact, never involved conversation other than the most minimal required by social convention. Now, as hard as it is for me because it is not my natural tendency, I look these people in the eye. I respond enthusiastically with any greeting. I look for something to compliment them on - their hair, their jewelry, a tattoo - some way to make a human connection, and to make them feel good about themselves. I could be the one who gives them a compliment all day long. I’m not doing anything “phony” - this is actually being quite real, acknowledging our interconnectedness and our interdependence. It doesn’t get more real than connecting with another human being. 

And it doesn’t have to stop there, with simple conversation. Pay for the order in the car behind you next time you go through the drive-through for coffee or fast food. Pay for someone’s dinner at a restaurant. Buy a take-out lunch and give it to that pan-handler on the street corner. Or buy them a cup of coffee on a cold day. Give them a pair of socks, or gloves. I guarantee that those small things will completely change the day for that person - and change your day, too. When we give to others, we also receive something - we receive a changed heart, a heart that is not so alone and isolated. We rediscover our interconnectedness. This is the very core of what it means to live fully human, fully aware.

Each small act of love - for that is what this is - acts as a counter to the violence and hatred in the world. Imagine the change in our country if every one of us went out of our way to put a smile on a stranger’s face. If only HALF of us did this, it would be amazing! These are small things that can have a great impact. Not only does the recipient feel blessed, not only do you feel better, but you feel less helpless in the face of the hatred and violence sweeping our country. This is something tangible you can do to counter all the negativity.

But you don’t have to stop there, either! You can make a donation to the organizations that are standing against racism and bigotry, such as the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center. You could donate to a local homeless shelter, or the YWCA. You could donate to a myriad of programs supporting the current protests and Standing Rock. You could sponsor a child with Compassion International. You could donate to your local center for LGBTQI youth. You could donate to World Relief or other organizations helping refugees and immigrants.

And, then, if you really want to go all out in “being the change you want to see in the world,” you can volunteer. Volunteer at your local school or library or community center. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Volunteer at the YWCA, or a woman’s shelter, or a food bank. Volunteer with an organization that helps refugees. I would particularly like to encourage you to volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone. Volunteer with a group that helps people with whom you normally have no contact. Expose yourself to people of different economic strata, or of a different culture or background. The more we can see that all people are the same underneath, the less likely we will be to fear or hate them.

To help you find an organization to donate to or volunteer with, here are a couple of lists.

For people who live in or near Spokane, WA:

National/International organizations and charities:

If each of us donated just $25 dollars to a couple of these organizations, think of the positive results! If only one in ten of us volunteered somewhere, think of the impact! And if we ALL were simply to be kind to others, to go out of our way to brighten someone’s day, just think how our communities would change! This is what will make America great again - an America that cares about every single person. Won’t you join me?