A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Friday, December 23, 2016

Would I? Would you?

Last week, Ann and I went to the film Loving, the story of a white man, Richard Loving, and his Black wife Mildred, the plaintiffs in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

A taciturn man, Richard speaks only a few sentences in the two-hour film. When asked by an attorney if there's anything Richard would like conveyed to the Supreme Court, he says, "Tell them, I love my wife." 

Pretty simple, really. And yet the two were pulled from their bed, jailed, banished from Virginia for 25 years, threatened with violence, and briefly taken from their children. Hard to believe, but Ann and I were struck by the similarities between their experiences and those of so many GLBTQIA persons. It’s terrifying what fear can drive people to do, and it’s amazing what people can be convinced to blame for their fears. 

With Trump’s election, his appointments, and his ongoing tweets, I am afraid for how vulnerable to fear mongering we seem as a country, and I worry about those who may be blamed for the fears. I wonder where we will find the light in all this darkness.

As a person who goes to church (I don’t often call myself a Christian because of all the connotations that label has that don’t apply to me), I remember the unjust world that Jesus was born into and the ways that he challenged his society. I remember that his parents were immigrants in the land where he was born, that the king wanted to kill him even as a child, and that the state did finally kill him when he was an adult.

In a recent radio story on children’s perceptions, a father told the story of his daughter wanting to know the story of Jesus, so he bought her a children’s Bible, and they talked about Jesus’s birth and his message of love. A few weeks, later, they passed an image of Jesus on the cross, and his daughter asked, “Who is that?” The father told his daughter that he hadn’t told her the whole story of Jesus’s life and told her that, though he was a man of peace, people in power had felt threatened by him and so they killed him. Two months later, she wanted to know about Martin Luther King, Jr., and her father explained that he had been a peaceful man who fought for justice for people of color. She thought about that and asked, “Did they kill him, too?”

Yes, it seems that we people are too likely to kill those who call us to peace with justice, even to kill our world. This is a dark time, and there have been and still are so many other times and places of darkness: Syria, Darfur, Palestine, Germany or countries invaded by Nazi troops in WWII, El Salvador, American slavery, violence against GLBTQIA persons, The Crusades, The Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the list goes on, seemingly endlessly.

The fact that there have been so many other times and places of darkness does not make me feel better about this time and place, and though I read about making peace with the darkness and understand the concept metaphorically and in the long term, the right-now reality of what the darkness holds—death, fear, and terror—worries me.

The potential ramifications of Trump’s election have me thinking apocalyptically, a way that many Americans were thinking as they voted. According to the book Strangers in Their Own Land, the Pew Research Center found that 41% of Americans think the second coming will definitely or probably come by 2050 (and 41% thought it wouldn’t.) If the Second Coming is nigh, I suppose the logic goes, why bother to care for the earth and the people not yet born. Why worry about nuclear proliferation when total destruction will be coming anyway?

The question for me now is what will I do in this dark time? A Jewish woman born shortly after WWII recently told the story of a game she and her siblings played as children: “Who would hide us?” The question keeps echoing in my ear. In what may be a Fourth Reich, the question cannot be rhetorical. Would I? Would you?

My little church is asking itself this question now. A small group of us decided recently not to post a banner welcoming refugees and immigrants until we know what we mean by “Welcome.” Do we mean those afraid and outcast are welcome to have a cookie and a cup of coffee and worship with us, or do we mean something more substantive than that?

Of course, the question of what to do in an unjust world has been before us for some time, perhaps for all time. In a recent Seattle Times article by the self-proclaimed data nerd Gene Balk, Balk estimates that there are 200,000 empty bedrooms in Seattle that might be used right now to house so many homeless on our streets. Ann and I have one of those rooms. It’s right across from our bedroom and would not be a private space for a guest or for us, which makes it inconvenient. After all, we like our life together, just the two of us.

And so, we wonder, “What will we do?”