Shh… Listen closely.
Can you hear it? The heavy, faint but steady beat of the kettledrum as it rips a hole in the universe wide wide to allow the triumphant herald of the bugles?
You strain your ears, for there is an accompanying lively tune, chanted by sweaty humans gyrating in the streets of cities like New York and Philadelphia.
Is it, “Let freedom ring?”
No...it is something more...something about freedom for all, and justice long-forgotten, resurrected.
It’s more of a chant, really, a plea or, a command, even.
We are seen, we are heard, justice, justice will be served.
Quips and quotes you heard in the past, make a smidgen more sense than they used to:
And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Behind it all, though, dark shadows loom.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia. Systemic injustice. Systemic oppression.
We watched Biden’s and Kamala’s acceptance speeches the night after they first aired so that our kids could watch with us.
As the speech came to an end and the fireworks began, declaring Biden the new president elect, my husband burst into tears. My own eyes misted.
“It’s just been so dark. And I didn’t even realize it,” my husband said.
He is right. Our country has felt heavy and hopeless, especially this past year.
Watching our black neighbors being murdered by cops, watching those cops NOT be held accountable, was horrifying.
Listening to the President’s words, seeing his “law and order” reaction to protestors, has filled us with equal measures of sorrow and helpless anger.
Wending its way through everything, too, is this global pandemic, now spreading more quickly and virulently than ever, touching some softly, ignoring others and devouring the vulnerable with vigor.
And there has been no one to say, “Hey everyone, this is bad, but we’re going to make it through, we’re going to handle this together and here’s how.”
To make matters worse, people have quibbled over the best way to stop the spread of the disease.
Then on Saturday, we American’s heard these words from a leader:
It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again ... we have to stop treating our opponents like enemies…
On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that will start on January 20th, 2021...
Spread the faith, God love you all, may God bless America and may God protect our troops.
And for the first time in years, we felt seen. We felt hope.
If just a few words from a politician can fill us with such joy and hope, imagine how sad and empty we’ve been feeling, indeed?
Behind this ray of hope, though, there looms a cloud of darkness.
Conspiracy theories. QAnon. A president refusing to concede, dragging the country through pointless legal battles in the face of a pandemic. White supremacists offering threatening statements. Christians claiming political sides as God's truth.
Imagine being a beautiful macaw raised in an aviary that had been constructed right on the edge of the rainforest.
The aviary was nice overall.
You had caregivers who provided for all your needs. You had trees to roost in and a handful of other birds to play with.
You really didn’t notice there was a glass cage surrounding you, in fact.
You didn’t see the beautiful macaws gliding high above your home, gilded in sunlight; you were too busy worrying about how soon your aviary would be cleaned out or when someone would come to feed you.
One day, when everything was unusually quiet, you happened to glance up at the sky as you fluffed your wings and you wondered for a fleeting instant, what would it be like to fly up there?
Another bird noticed your gaze and warned you, “Oh, you don’t want to go down that road. It may look great, but if you go out there, you will have to deal with predators and find your own food. It’s best not to look out there too often. If you start thinking life out there will be better, you are deceived.”
When no one was looking, you would find yourself gazing out the window, a great sense of loneliness and a mysterious sensation of loss filling your heart.
I spent most of my life living like you, macaw, in a glass cage.
I had a few chosen friends, who also lived in the glass cage.
We talked often about things pertaining to glass cages, like how clean we were or which feeder was our favorite.
I lived in relative safety, unaware of the dangers those distant soaring birds of the rainforest faced.
One day, I heard two older birds gossiping. They were talking about how dirty those outdoor rainforest birds were. I couldn’t help but notice the disgust in their voices.
Didn’t we all originally come from out in the rainforest too, I wondered?
What made us indoor birds better?
One day when I was hanging out on a limb with a new friend, joking and preening, three elder birds surrounded us and began interrogating my friend.
Where do you come from?
Let us see your claws. Is that a scratch on your beak? Why are you missing tail feathers?
“This is my friend,” I said. “I know him. He’s wonderful, he loves this aviary; in fact, I’ve seen him give up his roost for you many times.”
In the end, my pleas mattered not.
The elders whispered loudly amongst themselves, “He’s been in fights. He’s been injured. He’s weak. He’s going to destroy our haven. Get him out. He must leave. Out. Now.”
And just like that, my friend was gone.
I went to the elders, full of anger and questions. They tried to convince me he was other, that he didn’t belong, that he’d harm me and lead the little ones astray.
But didn’t he come here to the aviary to rest? To escape all those fights? To heal? What’s an aviary for, if not to rescue? I wondered.
There were other young birds questioning too.
We organized ourselves and flew over everyone’s heads in squads, squawking our protest to the ejection of a friend seeking safe haven.
Instead of listening, the elder birds responded by closing off our roosts and rationing our food. They felt we needed to be taught. We needed to listen to their wisdom. They had lived longer than us, after all. And didn’t we know the stories of old? Stories of aviary birds suffering because of who they’d welcomed into their midst?
One day, when a bird keeper opened the door, a group of us young un’s flew out.
Out, out, into the sun; up, up, into the sky.
We flew away, away, deeper and deeper into the rainforest. There were beautiful birds there, with beautiful feathers and musical warbles.
There were dangers out there, yes, but the birds looked out for one amother, cawing and chirping when danger was near.
That sense of loneliness and loss I had felt in the aviary began to fade as I embraced my oneness with all things rainforest, happy to be part of the larger bird-family.
For so long, friends, I was like the aviary bird, safe because of my church and my family and my skin color. I had everything I needed.
When I noticed people who were less fortunate than I, I was warned not to be too compassionate or sensitive, because eternity was all that mattered, because if people were poor or suffering, there must have been something they had done to deserve it.
I was also warned about people who weren’t the “norm”. I'm really not sure why...apparently, these people wanted to do things like, destroy society or destroy my marriage.
I was defined by what I wasn’t, by what I did and didn’t, rather than by how much or how well I loved.
I was told no one else knew the truth, that if I left the safety of the aviary or asked too many questions, I would suffer greatly, losing everything I loved.
In short, I grew up in the safety of a carefully constructed aviary.
And in the past few years, I was the bird who questioned the exclusionary nature of it.
The aviary is anything that excludes and seeks to protect more than to love.
Both my country and my church have been my aviary, time to time.
When I have cared more about protecting myself or my wealth than about extending justice and kindness to others, I have found myself within its confines.
When I flew out into the rainforest, I discovered, most of the birds were actually looking out for one another. I became one member of a much larger community, a community where even one little bird’s suffering mattered, because that little bird was a bird just like the rest of us.
In the last year, I have decided to speak up about the aviary, to raise my voice in protest.
So when Biden won the Presidential election against a president who was seeking to protect and exclude, and people in the major cities took to the streets to party, I felt at one with the wider world of love and goodness and kindness and justice for the first time.
I suddenly realized I had broken out of the aviary and was flying as one with all birds, and we were going to protect each other because we were each other— birds one and all.
I don’t always understand Jesus.
But one thing I know is that Jesus spent time with the ones society shunned and rejected, not with the powerful and wealthy.
He spent time with women, with the poor, with the “unclean”, and with people who were racial enemies of his people.
I don’t always "get" the Bible either.
But Israel’s central narrative was one of promise and rescue from oppression.
And so many other stories in the Bible point to promise and rescue.
So if you want to be near the heart of God, friend, you will have to leave the aviary and consort with the rejects. You will need to march to protect the week, and seek justice for the oppressed.
Always, a dark shadow of evil will loom. And the more you fight it, the darker it will become; evil doesn't want to be eradicated, after all.
So open your eyes. Gird your loins. Fight evil with good, fight hate with love, seek justice and love mercy.
Go on. Fly away free. It’s a real jungle out there.
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”(Lord of the Rings)
International news headlines always come to me in full color and with surround sound.
I attribute this to the fact that I grew up in another country.
I hear on the news about Syria, and I see a child, half-clothed, running, lost and scared, mouth wide with fear, eyes wild, confused, choking down snot, dripping tears, tripping ‘cross potholes dotting dusty streets, and wondering.
Where’s mommy? Where is she? Where did she go?
The child’s fear of abandonment having indeed become his reality.
I see mother’s rocking dead children, cradling them desperately, wrestling time itself.
If only. If only. I would have protected you with my very body, my own life, little one. If only.
I see spouses helplessly seething, beholding in agonized helplessness their beloved’s beautiful bodies being pillaged, plundered.
I am yours and you are mine. I, me, you, us. It isn’t enough. It’s. Not. Enough!!!!
I see family’s leaving homes which once felt cozy and safe in great haste, wondering whether they will ever again find such an abode, knowing that if, in the off chance they do, their deepest selves have been uprooted so as to never rest, really rest, again.
Home is gone. Rest is gone. I am displaced, alone.
I tell my children bits and pieces. They must know. They must know this world is not safe, easy or just for so many. They must know the privilege they have been born into. They must be inspired and moved and indeed unsettled.
To whom much is given, children.
And the questions come. What can we do?
Indeed, friends, what can we do?
We can refuse to live in fear. We can step outside of our pet politics and our favored political parties and SEE the real people behind every press release. We can let our hearts break.
We can refuse to remain ignorant. Research, friends. Read articles from a variety of news outlets. Do not let your hearts harden. Keep an open mind.
We can enlighten those around us.
We can volunteer and give.
I won’t even pretend I’m an expert on world events or humanitarian crises. I won’t pretend I’ve done a great job of giving or volunteering.
But I refuse to let my own faults and shortcomings keep me from writing my heart. Every little bit of good we do is worth it.
Love matters. Compassion matters.
I’ve been convicted of late as a light has been shone on my desire, indeed lust for, safety, security and peace.
Have a listen to these podcasts:
Looking Through A Lens of Compassion
It’s deeply ingrained within my crusty American heart to store up wealth for my future, for those “just in case” moments.
Not to mention that I just love a good shopping trip; the feeling of carrying armfuls of bountiful plenty home is intoxicating and as good as any drug.
But, am I called to love money and security? Is my spirituality to be measured in how much I have, in how good a steward I’ve been whilst doling out my monthly 10%?
Long have I pondered the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), because upon first reading it, it made no sense.
I could not understand why the servant who had been given one talent and then buried it (in order to save it for his Master) would be so harshly condemned.
Hadn’t he been careful with the money he was given? At least he did not go out and squander it, right?
And why were the servants who took risks with the money they’d been given praised?
Why does the parable describe the Master in this way: “[...] a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed [...]”, considering the Master seems to be a depiction of Jesus?
The parable indicates that it was right to take risks with the money because of the qualities of the Master (mentioned above).
I’m sure there are a myriad of deep meanings to this parable, and that I am only skimming the surface, but here’s what occurs to me as I ponder it:
I’m pretty sure this means I need to step out of the way and let my heart soften. I need to let go of the fear which encourages me to hoard safety and security, abundance and fun.
I can do this because I am part of a kingdom that doesn’t value wealth or power or hoarding. It values growth and giving, risk-taking and fearlessness.
I confess that even writing these words terrifies me. I know them to be true. I know it, deep in my bones. But I’m afraid.
If I let my heart soften, what will God ask of me?
In the stillness and dust which settles in the wake of that messy question, there hangs this portrait of abundance, multiplication.
And I’m simply sure I’m supposed to show up every day, whatever that means, with a soft and tender heart, unafraid.
In the wise words of Anne Lamott, “If you give freely, there will always be more.”
We as writers understand how much words matter.
For example, there is a difference between calling people “invaders” and calling them “refugees”.
Pause for a moment and reflect upon the term “invader”. What words come to mind when you hear this term?
Now, do the same with the term “refugee”.
Buried somewhere beneath all the rhetoric, news reports and politics are flesh and blood people; the people who are having heated debates on the one hand, and the people who are being argued over on the other.
I wonder if we could pause amidst all the squabbling and squawking to ask why there are so many children — without grown-ups or caretakers— showing up in our detention centers.
So far this year, 56,278 unaccompanied children have come running into our country.
I can’t help but ask, “Where are these children coming from, and why are they here?”
Before I share what I have learned, I would like to note that many of these children are fleeing with an adult who is not a parent. The adult and child are separated once they are apprehended coming across the border.
Where are these children coming from? Why are they here?
There is a segment of Central America known as the Northern Triangle. This segment includes the countries El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of the people “caught” trying to cross the border into our country are from this part of the world.
One of the main reasons children are fleeing these Central American countries is because of increased violence towards women and children, including kidnapping, murder, rape and torture. Here is a very informative article: "Fleeing For Our Lives: Central American Migrant Crisis".
If your daughter were nearing puberty, and you saw the “writing on the wall”, the “ticking clock” to impending horror, would you not do everything in your power to protect her, including fleeing to another country and seeking asylum?
As an aside, these folks are not just fleeing to the United States but also to neighboring countries. They are desperate.
Other reasons children are fleeing are that they are targets of human trafficking, or because they are being recruited into gangs.
Can we really call these little ones “invaders”, friends?
Imagine a child showing up on your doorstep today, alone, cold and hungry. Would you really slam the door in that child’s face, trembling with terror, then begin to rant and rave about your own limited resources and this child’s desire to “take advantage” of you? Would you not help this child?
The only "side" we should be taking is the side of the victim...
My dear friends, do we not pay taxes to our government in the hopes our government will use our money well?
Do we truly want our government to be “threatened” by refugees, mostly children, seeking asylum? Are we okay with the negative rhetoric being used to describe these suffering citizens-of-Planet-Earth?
Would we like for our government (which is, after all, “of the people, by the people, for the people”) to swivel from a defensive posture to a more welcoming, prepared posture?
Do we want our government to place these least little ones in detention centers and treat them as though they are common criminals? Wouldn’t we like for our government to better use our tax dollars in addressing this humanitarian crisis?
Perhaps refugees aren’t on your mind. Perhaps they are not a priority for you. Perhaps your mind is currently flooding with all the “in-house” needs our country would be neglecting if it used our tax dollars for immigrants and asylum-seekers.
I would like to point out one more fact.
In 1992 the United States ratified a United Nations covenant entitled the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, or ICCPR for short.
Among other things, this covenant grants children certain rights, including “the right to security of person” and “the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
When our country places children fleeing inhuman, degrading, and cruel circumstances into detention camps for extended periods of time rather than welcoming and caring for them, it is not keeping its agreement to uphold their basic rights.
If we can agree on anything, let’s agree that the United States can do better.
Let’s call our representatives and let them know what we’d like to see happen (and what we are unhappy about). If you are unsure who to call or what to say, click here for helpful information.
Let’s either volunteer or give money to organizations currently assisting these refugees.
Here are some organizations you can give through: Ciudad Nueva, Border Perspective, SEEK, RAICES, and World Relief. While these organizations were recommended to me by a party I trust, as always, do your research before giving.
Let’s refuse to use asylum seekers and refugees as ammunition for our political canons.
Let’s research, taking some time to think for ourselves about the situation, rather than gulping down spoonfuls of whatever our favorite people are saying about the situation along the border.
Finally, and most importantly, let’s refuse to use words that harm, and instead embrace words that heal.
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.