eScapegoat 8

eScapegoat is a story for those whose life experiences require a tenacious, and sometimes solitary, faith. It’s a hard read but a hopeful one. Look for a new posting daily during Holy Week (apologies for my late start this week).

May eScapegoat nourish your soul this Lenten season. Return to beginning.

eScapegoat

Shadow Lands, cont.

“John McKenzie is on the deacon ballet for our congregation. John certainly has served us well. He drives the bus for our children’s church and he rarely misses Tuesday night visitation. So I can understand why members of this congregation would wish to nominate him for deacon. We have a difficulty here, however, that John and I have discussed at length and prayed over many times. Let me begin by citing the biblical mandate for our concern.”

Brother Jake lifted his black leather Bible—the leather cover draped itself over Brother Jake’s hand—and flipped toward the back. “Beloved, we find the passage in the book of 1 Timothy: one of Paul’s letters to his son in the ministry. If I could have a son in the ministry, I could do no better than John McKenzie. In Chapter 3 we read: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.’ Now the crux of our difficulty lies in verses four and five: ‘He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)’

John has sought repeatedly to involve his wife in our congregation, but he has been unsuccessful. John, you asked to speak to this matter, correct?”

“Yes, pastor.” John stood and faced the congregation, his face convulsing with repressed emotion. He stood for a moment, grappling with strong feelings, trying to bring himself under control.

“Thank you to everyone who wanted to vote me in as a deacon. I am…I am honored. But a deacon is to have management of his household and I have failed in this. My wife refuses to leave her church and join us here. I cannot convince her. I don’t deserve to be a deacon, but I will continue to serve as I can, if you will allow me.” He barely got out the final words; he sat down in a rush, resting his head in his hands. His shoulders heaved—up down, up down, pushing his emotions inside.

“Thank you, John. We are honored by your continued service,” said Bro. Jake, reclaiming the front. “That took great courage. Now, I propose someone make a motion in keeping with this biblical mandate: an bylaw stating that only men whose wives join this congregation and whose children regularly attend our functions may be considered for the role of deacon. Then fine men like John won’t be put through trials such as this one. Who among us, after all, can say we live totally in keeping with biblical command?”

Heads bowed, then nodded solemnly.

A deep voice from the back pronounced, “So moved,” and another, in rapid response, “I second.”

“Thank you, brothers. Let’s put feet to our convictions. All in favor, stand!” declared the pastor.

I could not stand; my legs wouldn’t allow me. All around the sanctuary, feet slid together, books were set aside, skirts smoothed. Knees straightened. I looked across row upon row of empty pews. With chins thrust forward, eyes bright, deep breaths taken, everyone stood, proud to be counted. Everyone, everywhere in my family’s world had taken to their feet. Except me.

I felt my father do a double take at me, felt his eyes on my downcast head, felt shock reach his brain. I needed to stand for my family, with my family. That was reason enough. I needed to spare them the difficulty of me. I must stand. Wilda, standing on the other side of Mother, bent toward me, motioning me with determined hand to rise. At the movement, I lifted my eyes and caught the pastor’s gaze—he reacted a split second behind my family, having just caught sight of me.

“Everyone in favor please stand,” he declared in an effort to clarify for the slow girl. Then he looked at me, bobbed his head up as if indicating the direction my body needed to take. I think it may have been the first time he ever really saw me.

I met his gaze, held it in an unspoken apology for the inconvenience, and tried to rise.

“No!” a shout declared. Had someone spoken? No, I alone heard the voice. “No! You can’t. You know it!”

What power was this, dictating the actions of my body? What had gotten into me? Then I knew. I had spoken. My self.

***

It took an eternity of seconds for my action (or lack of action) to communicate itself around the sanctuary. Heads turned as if I were a magnet and they metal shavings. As whispers hissed, I felt the burning of my family’s shame.

“The motion carries,” the pastor was saying, “with… almost unanimous support. Thank you, everyone. Now let’s be seated and vote on the remaining deacon candidates.”

I sat in the pew between my parents just like I’d sat as far back as I could recall, but I was not in the midst of anyone. Bro. Jake called names, there were seconds and discussions and votes. I raised my hand when other people did and lowered it on cue. It didn’t matter anymore. For one instant—the moment in which I did not stand—I was seen. I mattered terribly then..

“Let’s stand and close in prayer.”

This time I managed to stand. As one of the deacons, known for his marathon praying, droned on, I searched the room for Sheila’s fair head. I caught sight of it in the center section, a few rows ahead of us. She was easy to find because, instead of bowing her head, she looked straight ahead, her gaze open and hunted. I could feel her confusion across the room. Sheila, I felt sure, wished she could have joined me, could have summoned the will, but she was young and it was too hard for her. I forgave her in an instant and felt Mrs. McKenzie would have, too.

She must have felt my gaze, because she turned toward me. Then it happened: the scene that replays on the screen of my brain and leaves me cringing. Her eyes went cold, her face hardened into a replica of her mother’s, she breathed out fiercely as if expelling me from her system, and then she took her mother’s hand and turned her back to me.

“Amen.”

Congregants surged forward pretending to stop by our pew for a visit, but actually offering my parents

their condolences.

 

“What’s going on with your youngest?”

“The teen years are such a trying time…”

“With more life experience she’ll come to realize…”

 

Next, forced smiles and warm greetings descended on my bowed head, as people did their Christian duty on me. Sitting there, I could feel Wilda’s wrath, Mother’s embarrassment, Father’s anxiety: he wanted to get me out of there, to get himself out of there.

A familiar voice sounded above me. “Just checking in to see how the Schaefer family is doing this evening. How are you, Bro. William?”

“Just fine, Bro. Jake,” I heard my father’s respond.

“You, Sister Schaefer?”

“I am well, thank you,” replied my mother.

“Wilda?” I could hear the smile in his voice as his lips formed her name.

“I am quite well, Bro. Jake. Thank you for asking.” Wilda’s voice shook with barely repressed anger.

A pause. “W…Wanda?”

Eyes on my shoes, I sat silent, my toes squirming. Then my father’s voice, stern and reproving above me, “Wanda, Bro. Jake asked you a question.”

“Fine,” I told the floor. Then almost, but not quite, involuntarily: “She gets to choose.”

“What? Excuse me?” Bro. Jake sounded startled, rattled.

I met his eyes, watched them slide from my face, then I swallowed and said in a trembling voice: “Mrs. McKenzie. She gets to choose.”

The pastor stood, digesting this. Then he turned to lay a comforting hand on Father’s shoulder: “She’s young, William. With time…” With a nod and a smile, the pastor turned away.

To the others grouped around us, Father murmured something about having work to do at home, then moved us into the aisle. Eyes turned on me; whispers pierced my back. I could feel them; I could taste them.

***

In the car, Wilda exploded: “What were you thinking, Wanda? You embarrassed all of us!”

“Be still, Wilda,” said my Mother, for once speaking successfully. All conversation ceased. I knew when we got home, there’d be an inquest; Mother and Father would demand that I explain myself, and I couldn’t be silent before them. I was so churned up I knew my response would come as a flood of tears and a rush of passionate words. I was sick with revulsion at myself and, at the same time, I knew I’d make the same choice again, if given another opportunity.

We trudged into the house; my cheeks burned with shame. Father closed the front door and said, “Wanda, go to your room.” Wilda started to join me, but he said, “Not you, Wilda. In here.” I trod up the stairs, and then stopped at our bedroom door. Quietly, I retraced my steps and looked down on my family below. Father’s head ushered Mother’s and Wilda’s heads into the den, his hand pressed the door firmly closed. I sat at the top of the stairs, gazing at the block of wood separating me from my family. I was the topic of a secret discussion. I was a problem to be solved.

 

What transpired behind that door I never knew. No one spoke to me that night—about anything. I never had to defend my choice, because no one in my family ever spoke of it before me again. I guess they decided that was the Christian thing to do. But if I felt like a burden before, I had clearly become one now.

eScapegoat 7

Like the season of Lent, the writing and the story are lean, troubling, ascetical. eScapegoat is a story for those whose life experiences require a tenacious, and sometimes solitary, faith. It’s a hard read but a hopeful one. Look for a new posting each Tuesday during Lent and one daily during Holy Week (apologies for my late start this week).

May eScapegoat nourish your soul this Lenten season. Return to beginning.

eScapegoat

Shadow Lands, cont.

I let two students present before raising my hand. I thought if I didn’t get it over with, I’d scream or vomit or maybe both. I’d planned out and practiced my first sentence: “People of Ireland take care choosing names for their children.” My hands shook as I set the posters on the chalk rail. I heard some say “Whoa!” in an awed tone. I gathered my breath and made my way through my opening sentence, then turned my attention to the poster, read through the names, and explained the illustrations I’d done for each one. The room fell silent as I spoke; I felt the other students’ attention on my work and found myself relaxing and even enjoying their regard. At last (though it was probably four minutes, max) I sat down, surrounded by applause and smiles. The teacher asked if she could keep the posters to show her other classes. I nodded yes.

“Creative,” she said, looking at the posters and nodding. “Unique and well executed.”

After that, I was able to attend to the other students’ presentations. I saw lots of white, blue-lined index cards, heard sentence after sentence initiated with “Ummmmm…” and, not surprisingly, heard the names Joshua, David, Benjamin, Rachel, Mary, and Esther defined time and time again. One name, Azazel, caught my attention, partly because I liked the sound of it (it sounded like lightning looks), and partly because it meant a demon of the desert. I imagined fiery eyes peering out from under a scorched stone, then shivered with delightful horror. I thought I would paint Azazel someday.

***

In a small-town high school, word—any word about just about anything—spreads fast. A student in my class told her little sister about my project, and it was soon known that I painted. The other students, noticing me for the first time, seemed to feel I was, myself, some kind of rare art piece: something to be placed under glass and examined from all sides, while remembering to keep your hands clasped behind your back and not to get too close. Painters were a rarity in my family’s town. No one knew quite what to do with me.

***

“You paint?”

“Yeah.” I hesitated before owning it. I didn’t know where the admission would lead.

“I want to see.”

“Oh, they’re not that good. I’m still working on them some.”

“Please. I want to see.”

I tingled with some composite emotion borne of terror and hope. “Okay. They’re in my room.”

We mounted the stairs and Sheila thumped onto my bed, grabbing the pillow and hugging it close. She kicked off her sandals and folded her legs under her. I fished the box from the back of the closet and tenderly lifted the stack of paintings, now warped with water and paint. I silently apologized to the works for any misunderstandings or hurtful words they might be forced to endure. “We’ll be all right,” I soundlessly assured them.

In neat rows, as I imagined they would hang in a gallery, I laid the paintings on the floor at the foot of the bed. Sheila flopped over onto her stomach and surveyed the process. When I finished, she lay there silent, staring. I didn’t know where to look—at the paintings? At Sheila? Out the window? I could hear blood pulsing in my ears like an ocean trapped in a seashell. Would she never speak?

“Wow! These are wonderful, Wanda. I could never do this! Where do you get your ideas?” She stared again and said quietly, “I could never think of these things.”

“I don’t know. It just comes. Thank you.”

“Yeah. I mean it. Really. These are more than just beautiful. I could never paint trees like that.”

“Sure you could. Want to learn?”

Her eyes widened. She sat up and pushed her pale hair behind her ear. “Really? You could teach me?”

“Sure! We can start now.”

I’d never had anyone want me to teach them what I so loved to do. Euphoric, I pulled my paint box from under my bed and searched out two pads of watercolor paper.

“Let’s paint outside so we can look at some trees.”

Her large blue eyes shone with anticipation. “Okay!” she bounded off the bed and grabbed the paper. “Let’s go!”

***

I loved Sheila as I’d wanted to love my sister, and Sheila responded to my love as my sister would never allow herself to do. The guarded expression Sheila wore around her mother vanished, and the brightness of her soul shone on her face. I knew her mother was ashamed of Sheila’s size, so when Sheila and I were together, I stayed far from the subject. Instead, we spent hours in the library, we flew kites that dipped and danced on the winds of March, and, in every season, we painted. With me, Sheila allowed herself to open up, and I tried to be worthy of her trust. She called me “Big Sister,” and, for the first time, I felt the word “sister” might mean something good. She knew I loved her as she was. I knew we’d always be important to one another. I didn’t know then that comfort is an all too common, if unrecognized, addiction.

***

“Do you know Mrs. McKenzie?”

“The seventh-grade English teacher?”

Sheila nodded, gazing at the ground.

“Sure. I like her. She introduced me to Sherlock Holmes. A hard grader, but fair.”

“Yeah…” Sheila separated out a strand of her almost white hair and inspected it for split ends. “I like her, too. It’s just…”

“What?”

“Well, I overheard this argument—her and her husband. It’s weird thinking about teachers having problems…”

The turn of conversation dimmed the joy of our reading time; I wished Sheila would either say what she wanted to say or just drop it. She pushed her hair behind her ear and sat up with her hands in her lap as if she were on one of those lawyer shows as a witness. “Okay. So Mr. Grosman asked me to make photocopies of this handout, ’cause we were short eight for the class. He told me to make the copies in the office—he chose me over Beverly, who had her hand up to volunteer—and come right straight back to class. So I was hurrying and the paper jammed in the copier. I got really scared I had ruined it, and I didn’t want to tell Mr. Grosman, ’cause he gets mad kind of easy and ’cause Beverly would know about it, so I went to see if someone in the office could help me. The teacher’s lounge door was open a little, so I pushed on it. It smells like cigarettes in there, did you know?”

I nodded, hoping she’d move on along with her story.

“Mrs. McKenzie was standing there, talking to her husband. I thought they’d tell me I needed to leave because I was right there, you know? But they never even saw me. I knew it was Mr. McKenzie, because I’d seen him at our basketball games with Mrs. McKenzie. He goes to our church, right?

“Who?”

“Mr. McKenzie. John McKenzie.”

“Yeah.” Strangely, I hadn’t put John McKenzie and Mrs. McKenzie together as a couple, I guess because I’d never seen them together.

“Anyway, his eyes were really…pleading, and she—she had tears in hers. She said something like, “I just can’t, John,’ and he said something about Bro. Jake. Then she just shook her head. I backed out of the lounge and I don’t think they ever saw me. When I got back to the copier, Mrs. Teague was working on it. She said it happens all the time and it wasn’t my fault. Then she helped me make copies and I ran back to class. When I saw Mrs. McKenzie the next day, she was just like usual, but I kept thinking of her with tears in her eyes. What could make her so sad? Do you think she’s getting divorced?”

In our community, divorce carried as much shame, if not more, than distributing birth-control pills. “What God has put together,” Bro. Jake proclaimed from the pulpit, “let no man put asunder.”

“I don’t know,” I replied, wanting to get back to reading. “Could be anything. Adults worry a lot about money. Maybe it’s that.”

“But Mr. McKenzie mentioned Bro. Jake.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen Mrs. McKenzie at church, so why would she care about Bro. Jake?”

Sheila shrugged and I forgot about the conversation. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.

From the Margins: Rahab

Soul Thirst

They call me whore. When we pass on the street, heads down, eyes averted lest I contaminate them, they utter the word beneath their breath and hurry by, spewing judgment. They have seen their husbands and fathers and sons look long at me; bitterness must find a scapegoat somewhere. That is my role: scapegoat and whore. So be it.

I ceased long ago to live in their world. My life has been cruel, but life has given me a family—father, mother, brothers and sisters—all who depend on me for bread. I did not ask to be caregiver for so many, but I will do what I can. What I must. We are debt slaves, required to pay our obligations. I have some enterprise, for I am a woman of drive and intellect. I weave wool and I mill flax. But these tasks alone cannot provide for so many. I whore to feed my family. One day I will not be attractive enough or well enough even for that, but by then my parents will be dead and perhaps I can get by on my other work. That is the only hope I afford myself. For what could possibly change a life such as mine?

And then the rumors. I hear them from other prostitutes who hear them from their clients: they whisper of a wild transient tribe that dried up the waters of the Jordan and then slaughtered King Og and King Bashan. A thrill in my gut—is it fear or hope?—tells me the God these people follow has power. Power carries meaning for me, for powerlessness has been my life-long companion.

We are a walled city, I tell myself. Why fear a rag-tag tribe and their traveling God? And yet I do fear, for walls are built by human hands upon an earth built by hands I cannot see. What if those hands grasped our walls and toppled them?

Then two of them came—straight into our town, straight into my house. It looked to my condemners like business as usual. But for once I had the power. The spies visited my house; I could do with them as I willed: turn them over to the king, if I chose. Perhaps be rewarded. But I knew by now not to trust the power brokers of Jericho. These two men, spying out my city, felt more like kin than my own king. And their God seemed worthy of my loyalty. This day I could choose to be the woman I knew, rather than the woman others chose to see.

I hid the men under a flax pile on my roof. When the king’s men came looking, I lied. Told them my clients left before the city gates closed. If the seekers hurried, they might just catch them.

The spies emerged then, covered in flax and reeking of the fear sweat. I pressed them to spare my family when their God took our city. I had no doubt this God could do whatever He chose, for here was power beyond imagining. The spies promised, on condition that I hang a crimson weaving cord from my window and secret my family inside our house. I agreed, and lowered the two by rope over the wall and into the waiting dark. I cut a crimson cord, fastened it to the window and felt, for the first time in my memory, the hope of freedom.

Then came the strange daily marches: seven of their holy men carrying trumpets and four bearing on poles a golden box that flashed fire in the sun. The holy men blew their horns into the silence for, though the entire tribe, thousands and thousands of them, paraded behind their priests, not one made a sound other than the slap, slap, slap of sandals against dirt: nothing but the padding of countless feet, and the eerie sounding of the trumpets day after day, circling our city and then departing. I watched, mesmerized, and a thrill of something between wonder and horror settled in my belly. Six days all. Six days of trumpets and silent parading. People in the streets joked about it, making it small and silly, but I could feel their fear. It hung in the air, cloying and cold, and we could not escape it.

The seventh day began as the others: trumpets sounding in silence, a soundless circuit of the city walls. But when the wanderers completed one circuit of the city, they began again. A second circuit…and a third…and a fourth, fifth, sixth. The tribe began to circle Jericho a seventh time. Watching from my window, I saw their leader give a signal. Shouts erupted from the mass, shouts so loud, so fierce, and so wild, that I cupped my hands over my ears. My heart raced—it was happening—and I propelled my family to the center of our home. “No one leaves,” I commanded. “No matter what.”

The earth writhed beneath us and the walls above us rocked. Then the sounds and smells of falling rock and rising dust. Screams from the injured and the terrified. On and on it went until the only world I could imagine was the small space in my home and the people who occupied it. We could barely see for all the pulverized stone and dust in the air. We breathed it in and coughed it up. But we stayed, though our terror compelled us to run.

I bullied my family into submission. I had cared for them all along, had I not? They must trust me now. We must wait in place as our city collapses around us.

Two familiar faces emerged from the dust-laden air: the spies I had sheltered days ago. They led us out of the city and into the Israelite camp. I stood, watching war fires eat away what was left of Jericho; I watched my home and my business descend in ashes. Even from our distance, the smell of burning reached and engulfed us, stealing into our hair and our clothes. But I also watched the fire consume my debts. I was a free woman: my family safe and free. True, we were outsiders among these people, but had I not been an outsider all my life?

Pentecost People

Pentecost

A Pentecost People took their faith into the courtroom, into their sanctuary, and into the streets. Their unimaginable courage and compassion proved love’s power over any lesser force: including crazed evil. Nine dead: pastor, grandmother, father, brothers and sisters, friends. Yet the surviving members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina chose to walk in Jesus hope.

These Pentecost People believe with Paul that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, that, in Christ, we are one. They welcomed the shooter into their Bible study. Then, later, they faced him in the courtroom to call him on his betrayal. Their actions remind us there’s nothing milk toast about forgiveness. Forgiveness does not pretend wrong is inconsequential; forgiveness chooses not to demean ourselves with revenge.

These Pentecost People live into Jesus’ challenge to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. Their capacity to love stuns and inspires: their potent words and actions challenge a nation to come together.

To these Pentecost People I say: “Thank you. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your example of forgiveness. Thank you for your authentic faith. Who you chose to be in the greatest of heartbreaks ennobles you and challenges me toward deeper, truer faith. Of you, I hear Jesus, the Murdered and the Risen, say ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’”

And I see the nine, one by one, wrapped in a bear hug. The words “Welcome home” smiled into each set of eyes. Each one knowing at last, for sure—and wanting us to know—that love is worth it. For this is the promise of our faith.

Going Native

Small Justices

We’ve all seen it—a newscaster interviewing a “guest” about his/her corporate business. Turns out the interview is a commercial dressed up as news. The practice has become so prevalent, it’s been given a name: native advertising. Why native advertising? Because news stations, news websites, newspapers, and news magazines need funding. In growing numbers, journalists are drawn toward the siren song of businesses with the bucks to rent them by the hour.

The pitch? Give us your credibility and we’ll give you a fat check. I’ve seen everything from home security systems to windows to grocery stores to plastic-surgery services hawked by reporters.

Professional Ethics: But there’s an obvious problem here; what if these “interviewees” become news? Will not the station that recently promoted their product/service be compromised in its reporting? Even if the newscaster possesses the professional ethics to report an unbiased story, I’ll still question everything that comes out of her mouth.

Lobbying: Second, the news-interview format gives interviewees’ statements credibility and, thus, draws business to their firm. Well, that’s the point, right—for the interviewee, at least. But news strives for objectivity—lobbying has no place in the news room. Those businesses that choose to give native advertising a miss lose out.

Plastics: My last concern proceeds from the prior one. Being interviewed by a newscaster renders the business itself not only credible but necessary. When newspersons hawk a particular grocery story, it’s one thing: we all need to eat. When they’re pushing plastic surgery, that’s another thing entirely. One interviewee—a plastic surgeon who clearly practiced what she preaches—pronounced the need for plastic surgery after every childbirth. “And if the mother nurses, those breasts are bye-bye” she said through Botoxed pouty lips. So now every woman who has birthed and nursed a child and not gotten herself nipped and tucked gets to feel flabby and ugly. The news said so.

What is the answer to native advertising? I wish I knew. Perhaps we can look at Consumer Report’s model, or perhaps you have an idea. This I do know: a strong, impenetrable line needs to be drawn between news reporting and the promotion of private business. Commercializing the news is dangerous. It’s unjust. And it needs to end. Period.

Tinsel & Term Limits

6-nity

I’m a few weeks into this 6-nity business (living into my 6th decade with humor and dignity). And I have to say it’s no big deal. Recently a friend grew apoplectic over the prospect of turning 58. “Ain’t no big thing,” I told her. And meant it. Like a reverse Advent, the anticipation is far worse than the reality.

I wonder what all the fuss is about. Actually, I’m pretty sure I know: we’re a death denying society. That’s why we spread make-up and hair gel on death, then bundle it into expensive packages which allow us to delude ourselves into forgetting that what no longer breathes decomposes.

Older people remind us that our lives have term limits that are not of our choice.

Why else would we reduce older persons to a set of embarrassing, age-related symptoms, treat them as pets, or tuck them quietly away (out of sight…)? Such practices insult persons who have earned the gravitas of years. And it harms those who perpetrate such practices. Such souls are rendered shallow; nothing deep can take root there.

Personally, I refuse delivery of such practices. Instead, I seek to live every day God gives me: to do what I can to make the world a better place. I will work, I will laugh, I will hope, I will love. To celebrate every second my heart beats and my brain fires.

***

The other day I met a septuagenarian. He’d wrapped his walking cane in tinsel and twinkling holiday lights.

“I love your cane,” I said.

“Tis the season,” he smiled.

 You are my role model for the next decade, I decided.

Holiday Justice

Small Justices

“It’s not fair!” wails the child.

“Life’s not fair,” counters the adult—a response that, while accurate, I find wholly unsatisfying. At my core I know life should be fair. Children know it, too. And saying “life’s not fair”—that’s just restating the problem.

This holiday season, and in the coming year, I hope to act for justice. Why the holidays? On reflection, I realized that Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa each respond to an injustice. Celebrants choose meet injustice with creativity, community, and hope: to be what they hope the world will become. How might we live out that kind of hope inside the holiday hectics? Some possibilities include:

  1. Taking Our Turn: We choose not to muscle our way into traffic, whether it be on the road or in the store;
  2. We Respect Ourselves: Enough to treat others with respect, even when we are disrespected. That may mean holding our tongue or it may mean holding someone accountable;
  3. Paying a Fair Price: We support fair trade businesses and give servers generous trips;
  4. Practicing Equality: That server? As important as any CEO, film star, sports hero, or president. Everyone has a story. Everybody matters;
  5. Giving Mercy: Parenting taught me that, while a practice of justice in the home is vital to raising children of character, sometimes mercy is needed. My children needed mercy from me and I from them. Mercy taught us we were more than our failings. I am not condoning a practice of mercy that allows a system of violence to continue unimpeded. I am speaking of acting in love: sometimes that’s being just, other times it’s being merciful.

This holiday season, we can seek to practice the justice we hope for all persons.

How do you respond to injustice? What are your hopes this holiday season for a fair and loving world?

Courting Votes

Small Justices

I am popular—my phone rings off the wall from early morning until bedtime. I’m not a rock star or a film star or a sports star. I’m a voter—and ‘tis the season. Through phone calls, television commercials, and Internet blasts, I’ve been eagerly courted. Come-on lines range from appeals for party loyalty to preys on irrational fears du jour (Ebola, anyone?). Spin renders opponents minor Beelzebubs and the Chosen as icons: gold-leaf halos and all.

I find myself wishing for an early-voter app: I scan my “I Voted” sticker and the app mutes all campaign rhetoric thereafter.

I’m no political expert: I learned more about politics from the West Wing than from my U.S. History class. I’m just an average Josie who pays her taxes and tries to keep her nose clean. But we’re a nation of Average Joes and Josies. Which made me wonder what we Average Joe/Josies hope for in a just politician on campaign. Here’s my list:

  1. A platform built on what the politician hopes to accomplish and why, not on what s/he believes will secure a win;
  2. Wisdom—strength of head and heart: the ability to make excruciating decisions while standing in the shoes of those most impacted;
  3. Enough political savvy to get the job done and enough integrity to know where to draw the line;
  4. Passion for the work that’s not tied to a paycheck;
  5. Greater commitment to the needs of constituents than to the desire for reelection; and
  6. Global awareness—recognition that constituents are best served when we find ways to work together for the common good.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a beginning. What’s on your list? Oh, wait, sorry. The phone’s ringing…

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.

~John Quincy Adams

Our Business

Small JusticesA job test. Passed. A job interview. Seemed to go well.

“We’ll let you know in six weeks or less.”

Six weeks later the hopeful applicant sends a carefully worded “checking on the status of my application” email.

“We should decide no later than the end of next week,” is the response.

End of next week. No word. Then, on Saturday, a form letter: “We have filled all available positions.”

The sad thing about this story is that I don’t need to convince most readers this actually happened to someone. The scenario is far too familiar: someone with a job, attendant paycheck, and the ability to buy groceries treats job seekers like lower forms of life. Why? Does trodding on the downtrodden feed a sick sense of power? Does such behavior stem from a lack of imagination: the inability to stand in another’s shoes? Or is it cowardice: hiding behind protocols to shield oneself from legal ramifications or simply from an uncomfortable interchange?

Whatever the cause, such treatment is unjust. A job seeker  left in limbo for weeks on end deserves a phone call or, at the very least, a personal email. Whatever discomfort the bearer of the bad news feels is nothing compared to what is experienced by the receiver. Especially when the receiver is treated like just one more mundane task to check off a to-do list.

Everyone of us gets rejected. The how of that rejection can make the difference between temporary bewilderment and permanent self destruction. If we must reject, let us do so with humanity.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

Business!’ cried the Ghost, writing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forebearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” ~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

14 Hundred and 92

Small Justices

We just completed a three-day celebration of “Oppression of a Native People by a Foreign Colonialist” Day. Sales—online and in stores—as well as school and business holidays marked the occasion. What, then, were we celebrating? Columbus certainly possessed courage; I wouldn’t set to sea for parts unknown sans GPS. And he had loyalty: he did what he did for God and country.

But Columbus also accepted social and religious mores that made him act unjustly. In elementary school I learned: “In 14 hundred and 92 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The rhyme could continue, “Claimed another’s land and charged, ‘Believe as I do.’” A product of his time, Columbus basically told residents of “his” discovered country to convert or live as slaves.

What’s my point in rehashing all this business? It’s not as if we can return to 14 hundred and 92 and give Columbus a talking to (bad rhyme intended). We can, however, learn from Columbus—from his courage and his loyalty as well as from his major missteps.

In the aftermath of Columbus Day, we can choose to think for ourselves: to question policies that undermine justice for all, and to recognize “spin” in everything from political debate to television commercials. Also, we can recognize that history written solely by vanquishers is not history, but propaganda. History’s story requires numerous points of view, including that of the vanquished. And we can seek to act justly. Each day provides myriad opportunities, from choosing not to muscle our way into traffic or the check-out line to learning a service worker’s name and expressing our gratitude.

The voyage of 1492 forever changed history—with mixed results. Where do we go from here? 2014 is our year to set sail, seeking justice for all. And that’s never a small journey.

There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.~Mahatma Gandhi