Category Archives: Caring across differences
1949 The first and the last protest I ever started: I was twelve.
In grade school in St. Louis, I was a bench warmer on The Saint Pius girls’ basketball team. After home games we always went to a small store near our school for cokes. They had a couple of large booths and we would all cram into one. After one game, someone accidentally knocked over a coke which not only spilled, but broke. The woman who owned the store yelled at us and told us to get out and never come back. I felt it was very unfair since we apologized and cleaned up the mess. After we went outside, I encouraged my teammates to stay as a protest and tell other kids to boycott the store. A couple of younger boys came and we told them not to go in, the woman was mean and unfair. But they went in anyway. Then, as they were leaving, they threw their candy wrappers on the floor and called her a witch and slammed out of the store. Not what I had wanted at all. The younger boys with their penchant for physical responses had hijacked our peaceful protest. Before we could decide what to do, the woman told us she had called the police. The rest of the team took off. Self-righteous me stayed. And sure enough, a very large policeman appeared. The policeman listened to the lady and then admonished me for inciting the boys to cause trouble and wrote down my name and address. I was warned to stay away from the store. I was struggling to not cry or throw up, fearful that as a newspaperman, my dad would see police reports. When I started walking home, the policeman was going the same way and when we got away from the store, he tore up the paper he had written my name on, handed it to me and said, “Don’t worry. She calls the police every other day about something. Just stay away for a while until she gets over it.” Later I found out that the boys’ team had been unruly in the store after their game the day before and gotten thrown out. And now knowing what I know about hormones and middle age, I have a lot more sympathy for the grumpy lady. I also have a warm spot in my heart for kind policemen.
When I was in eighth grade, my parents had a group of around six or seven that met at our apartment to discuss “Great Books.” The ones I remember were an elderly Congregationalist Minister and his wife and a young black man. They met around the dining room table and sometimes I’d sit in the living room reading, but also listening. Several things made an impression on me. They often disagreed, but they discussed the ideas and even seemed sometimes to reconsider their original opinion. Also, my father seemed open to some of the Congregationalist minister’s liberal ideas that I was pretty sure wouldn’t be popular with the Catholic hierarchy. So perhaps religion could be questioned also. And while my mother was quiet, the other woman was quite articulate and held her own in the discussions. I knew my Dad was against racial discrimination, but I saw for myself that the young black man could hold his own intellectually with his white elders. This probably did more to keep me free from the prevailing prejudices of that time than anything someone could say. About this same time, I was reading stories my dad wrote about an unarmed Mexican being beaten to death in a jail cell and no one questioning it. So, I began to suspect that all policemen were not kind.
In the early 1950’s when schools were still segregated as City Editor of the Houston Post in Texas, my Dad wrote an editorial supporting a black candidate for the school board so the black schools would have representation. She didn’t win, but in the wee hours of the night of the election before Dad got home, our doorbell rang and I got half way down the stairs before what sounded like an explosion sent me running back up the stairs. Someone had put a homemade bomb in the foyer of our apartment. It wasn’t as powerful as the ones people make today, but it had enough force that both the confetti packing and slices of sharp pieces of slate stuck in the walls and door. The FBI never found out who did it, but thought it was a response to dad’s editorial. I struggled to understand how anyone could hate that much that they would try to maim or possibly kill someone they didn’t know, who had never done anything to harm them. I was seventeen and my feeling of being safe in my world shattered that night. I had experienced just a tiny bit of how people in minorities feel all their lives. And now, I was reading my dad’s stories about Texas Rangers getting confessions by tying prisoners to heaters so that if they tired and slumped, they would be burned. Obviously, not all law enforcement officers were kind. But some were, because they were giving dad the information.
In 1967, a friend of mine doing volunteer charity work at a hospital rudely refused in front of the baby’s parents to carry the tiny black baby to the car and then bragged about it at a party. I decided to volunteer as a tutor in one of the black elementary schools. As I tried to help first and second graders with learning disabilities learn to read, I realized that learning to read would not get them jobs other than manual labor in the larger community. So, I began to work as a volunteer at the NAACP headquarters interviewing people for job applications. Then I went back to my own neighborhood and tried to get retail stores to hire some of the people qualified for the work. This was before laws on diversity in hiring. I had absolutely no success getting any of the merchants to hire a black, but I continued to work twice a month at the NAACP headquarters. So, when the poor people’s march on Washington came through Nashville in 1968, I was answering the phone at the NAACP headquarters. The young black men who were activists in SNCC and CORE, which tended to be more aggressive than those with Martin Luther King, Jr, were hanging out in the office waiting for the buses. Their hatred of whites, even those of us trying to help blacks get equal rights, was so scary, I became convinced that we were doomed to have a bloody race war. The thought of what that would be like not only for my own children, but the innocent young children I had tutored, broke my heart. Martin Luther King, Jr. with his faith in Jesus as the Way with His commitment to non-violence saved us from that.
My husband was a very kind and ethical man, but he was influenced growing up in a very Southern environment to be prejudiced. I’m not sure he was comfortable with my activism in the beginning and it did take about seven years for him to decide prejudice was wrong. But once he did, he acted on it by being the first Architecture firm in his home town to hire a black architect before any diversity laws. And his firm helped with projects of the black owner of an Architecture firm while he was unable to work. To me it takes a rare combination of intelligence and humility to recognize when you are wrong and true courage to act on that realization in a culture that has not yet accepted it.
Prejudice doesn’t look past the surface. It doesn’t recognize that all races, genders, nationalities, even social levels are diverse. My husband designed a beautiful home for the president of a black university. The area where the university was located was mixed use. I’m not sure if it was for security or to not rub the comfort and beauty of it in on those who didn’t have either, but they wanted it surrounded by a tall wall that hid the house. Then when protests were getting stronger in the black community the mayor sealed the whole area off. Police and barricades kept everyone black in “their” part of town. Those that had jobs as maids, janitors, movers, construction, whatever, could not get to their jobs. My maid had a college degree. I did not at that time. She worked where she could to help pay for their son to go to a Catholic school in their neighborhood. Her husband was so outraged that the peaceful, hardworking, and educated blacks were treated like cattle that could be penned, he insisted that she quit working as a maid in the white neighborhoods. I was taking my oldest son with me when I worked at the NAACP office, but I couldn’t take all four, so I had to stop working at the NAACP headquarters.
In the past, most blacks have had to develop walls around themselves when in the white community. Walls of stereotypes to not appear threatening, walls that hide individuality, that hide feelings, intelligence, talents, resentment, fear, vulnerability. A black parent said recently that as soon as their children can understand, they tell them don’t challenge whites. Don’t do or say anything to make them mad. Try not to be noticed. I think it takes a long time and a lot of courage to outgrow that. And sometimes it takes defensive anger to fight the fear of disappearing into a herd again. In many jobs such as waiters and maids, blacks were required to be invisible as a person. That’s what the rich required. When my mother visited her extremely wealthy older sister in Richmond, my mother as a kind and friendly person thanked the maid serving dinner. Afterward, her sister informed her that it was not proper to thank the servants. Blacks really were expected to be invisible as people. It takes a lot of anger to get the courage to become visible.
In 1993 when traveling in Europe in Prague, Vienna, and Lucerne, I had to use a wheel chair for walking more than a block or so. In Prague which had been recently freed from Communist rule, I was blocked from getting out of the rain to a covered side walk by middle-aged women who literally hissed angrily at me. In German speaking Lucerne we encountered a taxi driver at the airport, who wouldn’t take us even though he had a large car with a huge trunk for the wheel chair. His rude refusal made the second taxi have to drive over a median to get around him to take us. This wasn’t prejudice against Americans, because when I wasn’t having to use the wheel chair people were friendly. At that time prejudice was so strong, that people with handicaps were kept in their family’s homes and were never taken out. The only handicapped accessible bathrooms were in the airports and the McDonalds. But, when in the airport on the way home from Lucerne, we and another tourist family with someone in a wheel chair were separated away from the seating area with our families left standing for forty-five minutes until everyone else was on the plane. When we got home, we read of someone in Germany actually winning a $20,000 lawsuit against a hotel for ruining their vacation by allowing a handicapped person to eat in the dining room. I wept each night at being rejected by people who had no idea if I was a kind person, an intelligent person, a talented person, or even a person temporarily hurt in an accident. That’s what prejudice does, it prejudges without knowledge or understanding.
Prejudice against police is still prejudice. Just like whites or blacks or most other groups, they are usually good people having to do an incredibly difficult and hazardous job. But protecting the violent ones with union backed laws that hide their violence until it results in murder and chaos has to stop. That’s the core of the murders of many blacks and can be solved. I am not against unions, I’m against a law that protects the guilty instead of the innocent. As so often happens, a law intended for good, when applied without common sense, becomes used for evil. Power, prejudice, and a violent temperament are an explosive dangerous combination.
Power is a scary and tempting thing. When someone taunts the one with power or challenges legal authority, it takes certain types of people to resist abusing that power. There needs to be a system that instead of protecting those that abuse power, rewards those that don’t. Law and order go hand in hand. And when those, whose job it is to protect the people through upholding the law and maintaining order, break the law, order is destroyed. It is cause and effect. In times of civil unrest, this takes extraordinary character, courage, and self-control. When you need exceptional people, you need to pay them exceptional pay.
An experience I had in a town in Louisiana opened my eyes to the difficulties that come when power changes hands. I flew to a town in Louisiana for my Aunt’s funeral. I wasn’t in a wheel chair, but I needed a walker. I was flying home that evening and my cousin dropped me off at the Airport. My plane was delayed. Eventually, I was the only passenger still waiting there. Every employee was black. I was literally the only white in the airport. The black employees simply ignored me. It was like I was invisible. Finally, I risked being assertive and learned that the flight was canceled and there were no more flights until noon the next day. No announcement had been made that I heard. It must have been obvious I didn’t know I was stranded. It was now after eleven at night. I had to call and wake my cousin to come get me. Once again, I got to experience being on the other side of prejudice. I also began to recognize that many towns in the deep South had much larger black populations than most other areas of the country. And shifts in power were happening. While inevitable, that sort of change doesn’t happen without resistance from those used to having the power. It may be just. It may be karma. It may be Democracy. But it isn’t going to happen without conflict.
I remember my Dad talking about Houston in the fifties being the murder capital of America. He said that much of it grew out of the white judges simply throwing cases of conflict between blacks out of court. Or District Attorneys not prosecuting black against black crimes. Blacks were left to settle their own disputes, which they did by violence against one another.
As our immigrant communities grew, competition between groups such as Latin Americans and Blacks led to gangs of each. Instead of banding together, those at the bottom of the power pyramid fight one another for power. It wasn’t that different when there were large influxes of immigrants from Ireland and Italy. They settled as groups and struggled to gain a foothold in the culture. An Irish priest I knew in the 80’s, whose mother had worked as a maid in Boston where prejudice against the “shanty” Irish was general and blatant, said that each nationality or ethnic group begins to work their way up in America through sports. In the early 20th century it was boxing. Immigrant migrations are of the poor, who have generally had to literally fight to survive.
When an emerging group, who have been at the bottom of the social strata begin to dominate in a sport, they change it. They bring a survival of the literally physically strongest and toughest mindset to it. Finesse and strategy lose to sheer brutal strength and aggressiveness learned on the streets where they have had to fight to survive. In spite of overcoming his prejudices and having black friends he not only respected, but loved, my husband literally grieved over the change as basketball became much more physically aggressive when blacks began to dominate the sport. I suspect that football changed with the advent of the “fighting” Irish. My Irish priest was the first in his family to attend college. He was not only large and strong in body and in spirit, he also had a very good mind. So, eventually as a missionary he started a college in the Philippines that has grown and flourished. Then he became a Scripture Scholar for Vatican II. For the Irish, sports were not the only way up. The priesthood was a way into education. I listened recently to an elderly black scholar, who graduated from Harvard before diversity laws, speak about the fact that in the beginning of diversity laws, Harvard accepted blacks with scores of 75 on college entrance tests, a good score, but at that time most Harvard students had scores of 100. He wasn’t saying blacks couldn’t do well at Harvard, he had his PhD from there. But at that time this meant the black students had to really struggle to do well and some gave up. Where if they had gone to other good colleges where the competition wasn’t as stiff, they would have been at the top of their classes. Of course, the reality is that without diversity laws and scholarships, because of prejudice, few blacks would have ever gotten a chance to go to college and begin the climb from poverty and the survival of only the physically fittest and aggressive.
The truth is that as long as there is prejudice against a race or nationality, there will be a prejudice for by liberals. It takes a lot of generations to get to where every person is seen as they actually are individually.
When I got a job as a Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains’ Division on an Army Post, I had some prejudice against the “Military Establishment.” What I saw now that we have men and women in the military and posts and bases all over the world is that our military and their families represent the United Nations! And because the military life is hard on marriages, you can have all sorts of blends racially and ethnically in one family through remarriages in different countries. And on Post there are no ghettos to live in. And no private schools to set you apart. The only real divide is between Officers and Enlisted. Church covered dish socials were amazing! Every imaginable ethnic food. Working with the military gave me more hope for the possibility of world peace than I’d ever had.
But it also made me aware of my prejudice FOR. I was going with one of my volunteers to get her teen-age son out of the stockade. He’d done something silly, not serious, but her husband was overseas, so I was being support for her. As we were sitting in the waiting room, four white MP’s came in shoving a very muscular black soldier who was dragging heavy chains with manacles on both wrists and ankles. I immediately felt sorry for the black soldier and felt the chains were over-kill. But when I got back to work, the gentle, pretty eighteen-year-old private that worked in our office was there sobbing. She was a committed Christian, who had become so depressed by the cursing and fighting in her barracks that she had hiked down the busy highway while it was still daylight to spend the night in a motel to pray and have some peace. That morning, she was hiking back in the dark to be at roll call at dawn. There was very little traffic and she had been attacked and raped at knife point in the ditch along the highway. Her attacker was the soldier I had seen in chains. He had fled over a fence back onto the post when a trucker spotted them and slowed down. But in fleeing he left his wallet behind, so he was caught. I could only hold her and cry with her. The army immediately transferred her to another post in another part of the country. The soldier, who had been high on drugs, was sent to another post for trial.
Assuming anything based on race, gender, nationality, or even religion is simply unreliable. There are wonderful and horrible people in every group. And let’s face it, the large majority of us in any group could be better, but could also be worse.
Today I checked out a blogger that started following me without comment. She is twenty-five and the first post I found seemed to be on masturbating. Actually, it turned out to be about the Love of God that doesn’t shame us no matter where we are in our journey to become the people God created us to be. She also admitted that she kept sorrow away by physical sports and running and that it had become an addiction to avoid her feelings. She proceeded in a just a few blog posts to share wisdom that it has taken me fifty years of my journey with Jesus to learn. I have been frustrated that I haven’t been able to communicate my hard earned wisdom to younger members of my family. Maybe I should have been listening.
Here are some jewels: 1. Jesus is about PROCESS and compassion. Well, yeah, but the problem is that for most of us it’s a very long process to become truly compassionate. Compassion includes everyone. We can disagree, but there’s no room in compassion for judging.
And process is simply another word for change. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy to see how others need to change and judge them when they don’t recognize it. I only lack compassion for people who lack compassion. Which is my first clue that I also need to change.
She writes about forgiveness of those who have wounded us and says, “We have all left scars on the people we love the most.” My response was, “Well, ain’t that the truth Ruth!” I’ve been writing a memoir of sorts in order to share some of what I’ve learned, but in writing the memoir, I’m recognizing some ways I’ve hurt others that I was oblivious about. I’ve admitted to enough already that this isn’t a surprise or particularly devastating, just a reminder that I can’t throw stones.
Here’s three things she says God asked her to do:
1. To give my heart a voice.
2.To walk with him alone for a time.
3. To let go of everything I’ve “known” Him to be.
These are three things I too have slowly recognized, but still find challenging. 1. I’m pretty good at recognizing problems, but not so good at letting my self experience the emotional pain. Unfortunately, that’s the narrow gate I don’t want to go through, but it’s the only way to healing.
2. To walk with him alone would seem to be easy while in quarantine, but I find it almost impossible to quiet my mind. Plus, I can escape the challenge by doing what I’m doing now, connecting with the outside world through face book.
3. I thought I did this when I recognized how Jesus realized that he had to change in his understanding of his saving mission as only to save the Jews. He was challenged to change by a woman who was “unclean,” by a heretic uncouth Samaritan, and finally by a soldier of the hated enemy power. Who is “unclean” or unacceptable in Christianity today? Who is a heretic in our mind today? And who is someone with power we hate?
I realize that there is still much I have to unlearn because each generation has new eyes to see what I have not questioned.
Alexis Williams says, “I have to become fully alive in who I am, so I can be who God created me to be.”
I might express it as, “I have to become fully aware of who I am and that I am known and tenderly loved as I am, so I can with the grace of that Love become the unique person God created me to be.”
Her blog is named “Do I Stay or Do I Go?”
Freedom from Religion is the flip side of freedom of Religion. As a born again Christian I try to share the joy of knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God who fleshed that Love out in Jesus. But no one experiences the Love of God in Jesus by force or by the abomination of discrimination in his Name.
It’s a conundrum: Here are some controversial issues from the views of both conservatives and liberals. How do we love the people we consider unloving because they fear floods of immigrants? How do we love people who want the freedom for women to kill a potential child even possibly as a convenience? How do we love people who want to deny medical treatment to the old and send the middle class into poverty from the cost of staying alive? How can we love people who we believe are going against nature and the bible? How can we love people who don’t see the danger in giant corporations owning those that govern us. How do we love someone that wants security for all, more than freedom from control by government. In a democracy we have a voice and a vote. When it has become a voice of hate on both sides, how do we love? How do we heal so we can once again become Americans, not Democrats or Republicans, not Capitalists or Socialists, not conservative Christians or Liberal Christians, no matter who wins the vote? How do we love what we don’t try to understand on either side? What happens if we continue to grow in our hatred of one another? What will a country of growing violence, with or with out automatic rifles, be like for our children and grandchildren? Who is willing to become a reasonable voice crying in the wilderness of antipathy, disgust, suspicion, distrust, self righteousness, fear, and hate? What good will winning do anyone if we dig our trenches at the extreme opposites, forcing moderates into the camps of extremists until we are hopelessly divided as much as enemies in wars?
No one is winning anymore. We have lost our way as a nation.
Bloggers, if you agree please write a similar post on your site or re-blog this. And ask others to do the same. We who want moderation and kindness need to speak out.
I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?
Focus on mainly one aspect of Christianity: Unbalanced Scriptural Interpretation, A Hierarchy that comes between God and humanity, Over emphasis on either this life or the next, ALL lead to idol worship.
Fundamentalist Christians have to struggle not to make an idol of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is vitally important, because scripture introduces us to Jesus. Jesus speaks to where individuals are and calls each to growth now, just as He did the people in the scriptures. He wasn’t adding more rules. The Jews had plenty of them. Our call is to an ongoing, deepening relationship with a living Savior who continues to show us the way of love that changes us. Though scriptures may be like letters from God about Jesus, they are not God, and He is not limited to them. And Jesus himself, was sent to awaken us to God’s Spirit within us and all around us.
Catholics have to struggle to not make an idol of the hierarchy of the church. Again, Jesus is the Word of God to each of us. The spirit of God grows in us through a personal relationship with Jesus. The church can be a rich place of nurture with its tradition of spirituality, but ultimately we are personally accountable for growing in our relationship to God through Jesus, the Way of love. The Church may be our mother, but it is not God, and God is not limited to it.
Liberal Protestants tend to idolize ideals for our physical world and this life. Which once again, are good things, and part of our call to stewardship and love, but are not God or our ultimate reason for being, because physical life is not all there is, either now or forever. That’s what the resurrection was about. Humbling though it may be, it is not just about our intellectual ideals for this life. It’s about recognizing our incompleteness and accepting the call to a growing relationship with God through the human expression of both His love and the spirituality that He is calling us to, Jesus.
The Scriptures and the commandments; the church and its traditions of spirituality; caring for the physical well being of others and our world, are all good and absolutely vital parts of Christianity, but none of them is God. None of them are a substitute for a personal relationship with God, which for Christians is given life and nurtured by our relationship with Jesus who is the love of God fleshed out for all.
Out of that relationship can flow a love for scripture, a love for the spirituality and community of the church, a love for all creation and all humanity and a valuing of all of these and appreciation for those whom God has given gifts in each area. It is not any one or two of these. It is the balance found when we value all equally. There is one God, expressing Love in Jesus, and empowering us to grow and minister to others by the gifts of the Spirit within each of us.
We are all children of God, but we are born with different personalities that have different gifts and ways of both seeing and being, so we need each other. When we only value one aspect of the kingdom of God, the one that is easiest for us, we have turned a good thing into an idol. Our inability to value and incorporate others’ focus and understanding, has led us to a church on every corner claiming to have a monopoly on truth, all of the truth and nothing but the truth, which pretty much is a claim to being equal to God.
Jesus, Himself, was sent to lead us to God, not just to Himself. His love, laying down his life for us, is the Way to God. He was taken away, so that we too would be filled with and led by God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is love, love for all His creation and all His creatures. And the world will know that we are His by our growth in love, love that will free us to lay down our life with its hubris of believing we have a monopoly on truth.
Anything else is an idol.