Category Archives: prejudices
I have been writing about my experiences with prejudice in the last month. I have realized that because of being eight when WWII ended, I had seen news photos of the war at the movies and then photos and stories of the concentration camps, so I had a prejudice against Germans. Then when in the 1990’s, I traveled to areas speaking German in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic in a wheel chair and experienced prejudice against the handicapped first hand, it triggered that prejudice of mine. There were several very hurtful experiences and I came home hurt and angry and with renewed dislike for Germans. In writing and reliving it, I finally realized that most of the people we encountered during those trips were kind and friendly. My prejudice was based on just a few very mean people. I think this is often the case. I personally am vehemently anti-Trump, but I know and love and respect people who are staunch Republicans that voted for him. I admit it’s difficult for me to understand, but I know these are kind and loving people. So, like Oscar the Grouch, I am praying and working on my attitude. Pre-judging based on a small vocal group within a group is simply wrong. There are both hateful and loving people in every group, whether it’s a political, national, ethnic, racial, gender, or even a religious group. Prejudice blinds us to the good in people. In these times it is particularly important to be able to hear one another and work together to preserve our shared country and world.
To do that, we have to overcome prejudices of every kind. Even prejudice FOR the underdog. As a prejudiced person, I know what a struggle that is. But with grace, like Jesus did with the Samaritan, the unclean woman, the lepers, and even the soldier of the cruel Roman conqueror, we can see through to our shared human vulnerability and need for love and grace. Let’s pray for grace and actually work at it. It’s important.
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.
Around the same time, my parents had a group of 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 sounded 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 my dad was City Editor of the Houston Post in Texas. He 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 so 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 honest or 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 parents to carry a tiny black baby to the car and then bragged about it at a party. I was so disgusted, 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 young black architect before any diversity laws. And his firm helped with projects of a 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 within their own group. 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 to provide surroundings of beauty 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 so she could 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 children, 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 hid individuality, feelings, intelligence, resentment, fear, and 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 again. In many jobs such as waiters and maids, blacks were required to be invisible as a person. That’s what white employers required. When my mother visited her extremely wealthy older sister in Richmond, as a kind and friendly person my mother 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 against people with handicaps, they 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. I grew up during WWII and became aware of the horrors that Germans inflicted on Jews, gays, and the handicapped, so when experiencing hate based on prejudice by people with Germanic backgrounds in the 1990’s, my own latent prejudice against Germans surfaced. Intellectually, I know that many Germans are kind, good people and some died resisting the Nazis, but I still have to struggle against assuming they are all cruel and hostile toward people different from them.
Prejudice against police is still prejudice. Just like whites or blacks or other groups, most of them are 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 is an explosive dangerous combination.
Power is a scary and tempting thing. When someone taunts someone with power or challenges their legal authority, it takes certain types of people to resist abusing that power in response. 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. I got to experience being 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. And 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. The change may be just. It may be karma. It may be Democracy. But it isn’t going to happen without resistance by those used to being in power.
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 District Attorneys not prosecuting black against black crimes and Judges often throwing those cases out of court. Blacks were left to settle their own disputes, which they did by violence against one another.
Immigrants settle naturally into their own communities for support, but then competition for influence and affluence leads to fighting between groups. Back when there were times of large influxes of immigrants from Ireland and Italy, they fought as separate groups to gain a foothold in the culture. Blacks struggling for equality and a chance for the American Dream find themselves competing for jobs and acceptance with Latin Americans. Immigrants, whatever country they come from are predominantly from the poor or oppressed who have had to literally fight for survival. In the 1980’s I knew an elderly priest, whose mother had worked as a maid in Boston where prejudice against the “shanty” Irish was widespread and often cruel. He said that each nationality or ethnic group begins to try to work their way up in America through sports. In the early 20th century for the Irish it was boxing, then with Notre Dame University’s “Fighting Irish” it was football. And they brought a survival of the literally strongest and toughest mindset to it. Finesse and strategy may lose to sheer physical strength and aggressiveness learned on the streets where they have had to fight to survive. My Irish priest friend was the first in his family to attend college. He was not only large and strong in body and competitiveness, he also had an inquiring 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 to get an 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 for most colleges, 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 it by liberals. It takes a lot of generations to get to where every person is seen as they actually are individually.
When I began to work as a Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains’ Division on an Army Post, I admit I had some prejudice against the “Military Establishment.” But once I was a part of it, I saw that now that we have both men and women in the military and posts and bases all over the world, 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 posts or bases there are no ghettos to live in or private schools to set anyone apart. The only real divide is between Officers and Enlisted. 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 own prejudice FOR some groups. 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 roughly manhandling 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 either for or against a person based just 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 worse, we can also grow more caring and compassionate.
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?”
Parker J. Palmer
“I CAN’T BREATHE.” Those words give voice to the terror that has haunted black Americans since the founding of this country. They can also serve as a tragic tag for a political-cultural era in which life has been choked out of so many and so much.
“I can’t breathe” were the dying words of a black man named George Floyd, as a police officer kept a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. They are words that thousands of lynching victims in this country might have said as they died, words that freedom-seekers now living in limbo south of our border could say as they watch their dreams and sometimes their children die. All of this is rooted in the racism that American “leaders” have long exploited as a path to power, to which too many whites have given silent assent. “I can’t breathe” might have been the dying words of the 100,000 + American victims of COVID-19 just before they were intubated, deaths that have hit communities of color the hardest. Fewer would have died if our “leaders” valued science above ideology, human life above money and power, and the public interest above their own. Their knees were pressed down on those throats.
“I can’t breath” represents a challenge to the moral credentials of white people—if we fail to speak and act against the racist forces that help fuel #45’s war on democracy. Some of us have been “gasping for breath” since the advance man for birtherism ran for president, polluting the air we breathe with his racism and his taste for fascism. (I do not use the “F-word” lightly, but with the gravity of a student of history. For evidence, see https://tinyurl.com/y5l8hnsj, a piece I wrote for On Being eight months before the 2016 election.)
In the wake of a horrifying week in America, what can we do? If you or I walked down the street and heard a stranger say, “I can’t breathe,” we’d dial 911. We’d stay with the stranger until help arrived and do anything we could, the Heimlich maneuver, or CPR, or a hand to hold. We would NOT walk on by as if nothing were happening. Please, let’s not walk by now. And let’s not indulge the self-serving delusion that there’s nothing we can do. For example…
Alone or with your friends, study articles like “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” at https://tinyurl.com/y7ou7rkd, and act on one or more of the suggestions there.
Use Facebook and other social media to let folks in your network know where you stand. What’s worse, being “un-friended” or failing to take a clear stand on the morally imperative issues of our time?
Speak to family and friends who support racist words and actions, however indirectly. Tell them that you find it hard to breathe in that space. Then take a deep breath, and tell them what you value. Speak the truth with love, but speak the truth.
If you belong to a faith community whose leaders have ignored or even supported the inhumanity so evident in our politics right now, speak up. Tell them that you need to hear muscular love, truth, and justice preached and practiced, not soothing piosity or faithless complicity.
When November arrives, vote for candidates who offer something better than the tragedy we’re living right now, no matter your marginal reservations. Encourage others to do the same. “When you govern with lies, the ballots will fly. Lead without soul, and we’ll defeat you at the polls.”
There’s much we can do. It starts with listening to all who are crying, “I can’t breathe.” Souls—theirs, ours, and and our country’s—depend on us hearing and responding in every way we can.
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?
The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)
A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.
Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.) It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!
The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being. It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.
The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots. Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.
There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing. It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.
Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.
What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.
What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.
Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world. Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough. We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us. It isn’t either/or. And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.
Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me. It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth. My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!” And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.” As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me, One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on. And Two: Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved. And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.
The MBTI isn’t gospel. But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.
There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.
“You can’t fill a cup that is already full. That means you can’t approach a new situation, relationship, or job with what you think you know will happen. When you do that, you’re not leaving room for the unexpected, the delightful, and even the miraculous. Try starting from a place of ‘Maybe I don’t know.’ It allows you to be open to something or someone being different from what you experienced in the past. When you approach life in this open way, you also allow the universe to conspire on your behalf. So be empty of expectations. The universe will always dream bigger than you will. Abundance comes when you realize that you can receive what you need-every day.” by Eden-Clark and John Germain Leto
This quote so speaks to my condition right now. One of the hardest things for me is to allow those I care about to hurt. I want to help them find joy even in times of suffering, both for themselves and partly for myself. But suffering is part of the fabric of life and brings opportunities for grace and each of us has our own way and timing for experiencing it and learning from it. And part of loving another person is allowing them to be themselves, even if we are totally convinced we know “better” ways to be. Not being able to help my husband accept the losses that come with his illness or to help him trust that death is only a doorway, not the end, is very painful. And feelings of inadequacy and failure easily become less painful when disguised as frustration and impatience. The quote at the beginning of this showed up as a memory on my face book page today reminding me that my way may not be the best way for someone else and to trust God who loves my husband more than I ever could.
I do relate this experience to Mary’s vigil at the foot of her son’s cross. She had tried to convince him to come home when she realized he was putting himself in danger. She must have struggled with anger when he wouldn’t listen, also with guilt that she had somehow failed him, and with unimaginable heartbreak as she watched him suffer.
In the quote at the beginning of this, I translate “Universe” as God. And however anyone understands salvation, I truly believe that Jesus showed us that this life is not all there is and that suffering has the potential to be redeeming.
And the most counter-intuitive truth he showed us about life was when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He showed us that forgiveness is the ultimate requirement for love, so that we too can experience forgiveness. Because forgiving others and accepting and experiencing forgiveness are inseparable.
Forgiving others frees us to forgive ourselves, particularly when we have not been able to consciously admit we need forgiveness. We all have the self-righteous belief that our way is the totally right way. And that blinds us to the harm we do. Forgiving others for their blindness both frees and heals us.
Forgiving others is at the core of the command Jesus gave us, “Love one another as I have loved you,” because forgiveness is the very essence of Good Friday.
My prayer for all of us this Holy Week is that we will find the grace to admit the limits of both our own understanding and of everyone’s human blindness, freeing us to both forgive and accept forgiveness. So then, on Easter, we can celebrate the love of God expressed in Jesus and truly rejoice and be glad in it.
I agree that religious extremism in any form ends up doing violence to the rights of others. But blanket judgments of all people who are evangelical is the same kind of extremism. Some of us have had our whole lives changed for the better by seeing through the distortions of religion of all kinds to a central reality that Jesus himself recognized: Whatever we do to those who are the least in our eyes, usually those most different from ourselves, we do to all, including Jesus. The mystics of all major religions say the same thing. We are all one, like the parts of a human body, the cells of living creatures, the atoms of all creation. For me, the person of Jesus was key to my waking up to this and growing more and more aware of the love of God for me and all creation. Everyone sees through the glass darkly. We are not God. So it is not up to me or anyone else to judge others. God is the only one that sees the whole reality. We are simply called to love. We share what has helped us lovingly, while recognizing that God may be working in a different way in someone else at any particular moment in time. We should certainly speak out against extremism. And all blanket judgments are extremism.