When Hate Brings About

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This month has been difficult emotionally for many Americans, including myself. It started with the shooting in Washington DC of a congressman who was targeted for representing the Republican Party. On that same day, a shooter killed 3 workers at a UPS in San Francisco. With the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting of a black man stopped for a broken tail light, Minnesota was reminded that we have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality. It is easy to throw up our hands and believe that the world is becoming an increasingly nasty environment that will continue to sink lower in acts of hate and violence. But on the same day of the baseball shooting, I was invited to an event that reminded me that there can be a different path forward.

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Friends from Tapestry, an interfaith women’s group that was originated in response to the bombings in Paris in late 2015 and the subsequent fear and hate of Muslims, invited me to an evening meal to break the fast of Ramadan. Each evening during the 30 days of Ramadan, a community of 250-300 Muslims gather at the local mosque to share a meal and prayers starting at sundown – that equates with 9 pm in June. The fasting starts at sunup, or 4 am, and involves abstaining from both water and food. Those that work outside the home may work a reduced schedule, but household chores never take a vacation. I think that most of us would have a difficult time following this schedule for one day, much less 30 days in a row. It is considered a time where self-control is practiced and submission to God is the focus.

As my husband and I entered the chaotic, noisy room where adults, teen and children were gathering to break the fast, it was obvious that we were outsiders both by our dress and skin color. While scanning the room for my friends, we were warmly greeted by complete strangers and welcomed to partake in both the meal and in the nightly prayers. A few chairs were set aside for us – my husband later went to the mens’ side of the room- and a bowl of dates was set on the table. Dates are the first food eaten to break the fast. Hearing the call to prayers, we followed everyone into the mosque worship space and observed as worshipers bowed and prostrated themselves on the floor in submission to God. Small children ran up and down the rows of bowed heads, snuggling beside parents or siblings when they finally came to rest on the floor. Then back into the larger room to share a delicious meal of middle eastern food cooked by a local restaurant. I had not eaten since noon and it was now 9:30 pm. Those around me who had been fasting since 4 am pushed me to the front of the line, insisting that their guest be the first to eat. I was humbled by their generosity and willingness to answer all of my questions and share their stories of practicing the Muslim faith within a predominately Christian culture.

What would be the reaction of your faith community if someone dressed in traditional middle eastern garb showed up for Christmas or Easter services at your house of worship? Would you escort them to a pew and sit beside them as you explained the nuances of your worship service? Would you introduce them to your friends and share conversation as well as coffee and doughnuts after the service. Would you share stories of your faith and ask them questions about their religion? Christianity is founded on love and acceptance. I think that most of us, myself included, have a long journey ahead to fully integrate this into our lives. And I think that other faiths or religions do a much better job than mainstream Christianity at welcoming outsiders.

The shooting of a congressman was carried out by one of our own “terrorists”.  He was not Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent. He was Caucasian, born in America and had easy access to multiple rounds of ammunition and a gun.  Just because I share his skin color,  place of birth and religion does not make me feel responsible for his behavior. But if this same deranged individual had been Muslim, we would have blamed the larger Muslim community and labeled this as a “terrorist act”.  Shouldn’t all hate crimes be labeled as terrorist since they are targeted against a specific group and randomly kill innocent victims simply because they are members of this group?

Muslims are my friends. They cook wonderful food, have interesting stories to tell and share a deep faith that I respect. I hope that they can understand that not all Caucasians fear them or hate their religion. What this world needs is for all of us to develop more empathy and rid ourselves of hate and fear of those who don’t look like us. Because often “others”  are more similar to us than different.

 

 

 

Our non-traditional family and why it matters

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The non-traditional part of our family

I forget about the unusual origins of my family until I am asked a question or view another family that shares some of our qualities. This happened three times this past week and became a good way to reflect on how far we have come as a society over the past 25 years – and how far we still have to go.

  1. South Dakota recently passed a bill and was signed by the governor that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ couples, single parents, mixed faith and inter-racial couples when it determines placement for children from the foster care system. Since there are many more children in the foster care system than there are prospective parents, this means that children will wait longer for permanent placement. Or, they may never find a forever family. Multiple studies have shown that children raised in non-traditional families function as well as those children raised in traditional families. South Dakota is sacrificing children’s futures due to religious beliefs.
  2. A woman who has acted as a surrogate parent for another couple questioned whether I had a difficult time separating  emotionally from my egg donor children. While I did have emotional moments when the children were young, they have been replaced by a thankfulness for the ability to connect with these three kids as teenagers/young adults. I see my current role as extended family, providing emotional support and fun times that a day-to-day parent is not afforded.
  3. One of my daughters classmates was featured in the local paper this week. His single mother died when he was in middle school and his extended family lived out-of-state. He was taken in by his best friend’s family, where he often lived during his mother’s illness. Over the past 4 years, this couple have become “Mom” and “Dad”.  The parents are white, the young man is black.

Our family is non-traditional: 2 white heterosexual parents, 3 biological children, 3 children via egg donation to another couple and 2 Asian adopted children. 25 years ago when my husband and I were first considering the idea of egg donation for a good friend, we decided that it was to be kept a secret from our extended family. Due to religious reasons, my friend’s family was also not made aware of the origin of a triplet pregnancy. As society changed and the children grew older, the story was explained to relatives and friends. By this time, both families were well established in 2 different communities separated by 5 states and the reactions were overwhelmingly positive.

Adoption stories have undergone the same transition over the years. Many children adopted domestically in the 1940’s thru 1960’s were not informed that they were adopted. As society changed and became more accepting of adoption, as well as the emotional damage that was noted when young adults discovered their hidden origins, adoption became more open and celebrated. Now you can make the cover of People magazine if you are a celebrity in your late 40’s who adopts a baby.

Early international adoptees were seldom connected to their original culture and parents were instructed to raise the children as if they were white and their biologic children. The trouble was that the outside world did not see them as “white” when they became adults, and these adoptees had to navigate the world between 2 cultures, one of which they had few connections to. Diversity training for potential adoptive parents is now part of the adoption process. The Asian culture camp that we attend each summer has many discussions about culture, identity and diversity.

The role of  mom/parent has been the most rewarding/difficult part of my adult life and one I would not trade for any other experience that I have had. Being able to offer that opportunity to a friend was an easy choice despite the knowledge that there may be bumps in the road as the children became older.  Providing a home to children born in another country was also an easy choice as I knew that love developed while caring for a child and was not necessarily automatic. Each of these choices was made available to me as a white heterosexual female married to a white male who shared a mainstream religion. We are not special and should not be any more privileged than a gay biracial couple who is able to meet the same requirements for providing a home for a child in need of a forever family. Religion, sexual orientation and skin color are only part of who we are as individuals. Loving children and providing them with a home and future should be open to all of us.

on Christianity and mission work

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I consider myself Christian – I attend church on Sundays, have taught Sunday School and assisted with youth groups, traveled on youth mission trips. I also question many of the tenants of mainstream Christianity and try to work within my faith community for change. During my trips to  the developing world, I have participated in Baptist, Methodist and Catholic church services. The hospital we serve in Haiti started as a Baptist mission outpost. I have worked alongside atheists, evangelicals and Muslims.  All of this is to say that I have seen both the up and down sides of Christianity abroad.

As American Christians, we are often drawn to stories that purport to show the changes that teams of missionaries can make in impoverished nations and how the populace of the developing world welcomes these individuals with welcoming arms.

Now consider the following scenario. A devoutly Christian couple in Western Africa consider themselves very fortunate – they are healthy and have good jobs, are able to afford to send their three children to good schools and have a strong religious community. Recently they have become concerned about stories that they have heard about America – broken families resulting in children growing up in poverty, senseless gun deaths due to young men’s lack of connection to their communities, lack of medical care in sparsely populated areas. Both of the Africans are trained in medicine – a doctor and a nurse. With the financial and prayer support of their religious community, they uproot their family and move to a remote community in the western US. The family finds many of the foods and traditions of this new land to be foreign and write about them in a blog that they share with the community in Africa. Efforts are directed to building a school so that area children don’t have to travel so far for school and so that they can “save” the souls of the children by teaching them African Christianity. Future plans are to add a medical clinic to serve the needs of adults while spreading the African gospel. Youth mission teams are being formed in their home church so that youth can travel to this remote, foreign area of American to help with summer camps. All of these endeavors are meant to bring the community in America closer to the African way of life, thus solving all of their problems.

Does this story sound too familiar? It might be extreme to grab your attention, but is it so far from the truth? Following are just three examples of similar examples that I witnessed on my recent trip to Haiti.

  1. I was asked by a Haitian Catholic priest to vouch for his work as he was applying for a grant thru the Koch foundation. I have worked with him closely in our microfinance program and he is an extraordinary person that has been very responsible with finances. I contacted the Koch foundation and was informed that I was not able to testify to this man’s extraordinary work as I was not a person of the Catholic faith.
  2. The hospital in Haiti where we work is in desperate need of new operating room tables. I contacted a mission organization that acts as a clearinghouse for medical equipment. In order to be a member of their on-line community, I was asked to sign a form declaring my faith and stating that I believed that Jesus was the one true and only savior.
  3. One of the surgical members of our recent trip was familiar with a mission hospital in Africa that was in need of surgeons to teach local physicians. I checked out the website and found lovely pictures of the surrounding countryside, medical facilities and new solar panels. But other parts of this mission project were disturbing to me. The hospital was intentionally established in a part of the country that was “99.99% Muslim”. Christianity was taught to post-op patients and a separate building housed those Africans who had converted to Christianity and were ostracized from their Muslim families. I had the option to purchase a book that had recently been written about establishing missions to convert natives from the Islamic faith to Christianity.

Thankfully, I have witnessed far more examples of Christianity done right. Many of the American volunteers that I have worked with in Haiti are called to do good thru their Christian faith – and that is what they do when serving, regardless of the faith of those who they serve. If it were not for Baptist mission work abroad, Dr Hodges would never have traveled to Haiti after WWII and established Hospital Bon Samaritian, currently the main employer in Limbe (population 75,000) and source of clean water for the town. Fr Charles, in a remote mountain village, is working to build a hospital, has opened 6 schools and brings the outside world to illiterate citizens each Sunday.

It is complicated. I have more questions than answers after 10 years of working in Haiti. But maybe questioning is the first step in getting the answer right.

 

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Teaching cervical cancer screening in Kenya