A Warning from Anne Frank

November 26, 2016

Last weekend in Amsterdam I queued up for two hours in cold weather to gain admission to the Anne Frank House museum. There was no guarantee that there would be space for me, or that my endurance would last long enough to find out. But I made it inside! It was a profound experience. I don’t think that my reflections were much different from those of other visitors – but they were made timely by simultaneous events taking place in the US.

The visit to Anne Frank House was a reminder that human genius is extraordinarily ordinary. Anne was a typical teenage girl – she had crushes and she hung pictures of movie stars on her walls. She was also an aspiring author, writing not only diaries, but also short stories and the beginning of a novel, during the two years that her Jewish family was in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. After her death, her diary became one of the most influential books of the 20th century.[1]

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Yesterday in Seattle, neighbors posted dozens of supportive messages after the Muslim Association of Puget Sound was vandalized.

The museum visit was also a reminder of how evil can creep its way into ordinary life. Why should this brilliant young girl die in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, one month before it was liberated, simply because of her Jewish identity? Why should over 100,000 other Jews in the Netherlands meet the same fate? Or 6 million across Europe? Every person who was lost bore the image of their Creator, just as Anne did, even though most of them never became famous.

When we reflect on these horrors we tend to state the obvious: this must never happen again. But it has happened again. On a large scale in the 1990s in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and on a smaller scale in cases like the current persecution of the Rohingya ethnic group in Southeast Asia. So Anne’s story reminds me of the horrible things that can happen when we begin to view our fellow human beings as anything other than human beings.

In the US, dehumanization rose sharply during the recent presidential election. By ‘dehumanization’ I mean viewing other groups of people as less than ourselves, to the extent that we deny their basic rights and dignity as human beings. President-elect Trump did not invent dehumanization – in fact, its roots run deep in our culture. And I do not claim to know Trump’s inward intentions. Nonetheless the impact of his divisive campaign statements has been a visible flourishing of dehumanization.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified over 700 incidents of post-election harassment against immigrants, Blacks, LGBT persons, Muslims, women and occasionally even against Trump supporters.[2] Those statistics are difficult to interpret, yet the cultural phenomenon that they highlight is real. It’s worth noting that a number of the harassers linked their boldness directly to the election results with explanations such as: “Now we can say what we really think.”

Last weekend, while I was visiting the Anne Frank House, white nationalists held a conference in Washington DC. Their goal is a ‘white ethno-state,’ a country exclusively for people of European origin. They used to meet in quiet corners, but this gathering was open and assertive. In the words of one participant: “I never thought we would get to this point…The culture is moving more in my direction.”[3] Lest anyone miss the point, the conference also involved hailing the election results with recycled Nazi slogans.[4] Trump later made a comment condemning this group, which was very welcome, but very minimalist. A lot more leadership will be needed to contain the ugliness that has been unleashed.

Also last weekend, while I was visiting the Anne Frank House, someone vandalized the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), the Seattle area’s largest mosque. The sign reflecting the Muslim community’s identity was struck with a sledgehammer. Despite the obvious hostility, this story is now unfolding in a beautiful way. The number of perpetrators who attacked the sign is, I would guess, probably around two. The size of the crowd that showed up yesterday to express solidarity during a MAPS Open House appeared to be well over two hundred. I saw them there – over two hundred individual expressions of shared humanity – and they were powerful.

Comparisons to the Nazi era tend to upset people, so let me be clear: I am not saying that the level of dehumanization in the US is equal to that of the Nazi past. I am saying that we are at risk of moving in the wrong direction. I am saying that we all have a role to play in determining what happens next. At this point citizen action can make a difference – so let us take decisive action. It doesn’t matter if you are a Republication, a Democrat, or something else. I hope that you will be motivated to action by a commitment to shared humanity. As the late Israeli statesman Shimon Peres stated upon visiting the Anne Frank House: “It’s not a memory, it’s a warming to all of us.”[5]

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Update: Shortly after writing this post, I learned that I had underestimated the number of people who showed up for the MAPS Open House. I had guessed well over 200; happily MAPS counted almost 500! On 9 December, MAPS’ new sign was dedicated in a ceremony that featured multi-faith religious leaders from all over Seattle. On 17 December, the sign was vandalized again. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime. MAPS continues to engage their community by being a good neighbor.

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Comments are welcome, as long as they are respectful and non-discriminatory.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LPRRIAG/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[2] https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/us/politics/white-nationalists-celebrate-an-awakening-after-donald-trumps-victory.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/alt-right-salutes-donald-trump.html

[5] http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/columnists/regina_brett/chilling-memories-live-at-anne-frank-s-house/article_7df501e4-c2a8-11e4-9bdf-dfef400ac5d2.html


The Other Thing Happening in Paris – Climate Change

November 27, 2015

My chiropractor recently told me ‘There’s no guarantee that you won’t have more than one problem at a time.’ He was speaking the truth about the health of my spine. And his words are equally true when applied to the state of our world.

earth26-240x240Most people who know me assume that I am preoccupied with the escalating violence and the deteriorating relationships around the globe. And I am. I’m feeling the turmoil, and spending most of my waking hours trying toward contribute reconciliation and peace.

On that theme, so many things to say: Let us mourn deeply for the lives lost this month to attacks this in Paris…and Beirut and Kano and Bamako and Minneapolis…Let’s grieve for victims of all nationalities and religions, whether they were killed by our enemies or by our allies. Let’s plan for security to protect innocent people in ethical ways. Let’s make America’s streets safe for African American citizens. Let’s welcome refugees, even when we feel frightened or inconvenienced. In the words of the best article I’ve read this week, the world is scary as hell – love anyway.  

Paris this month seems to symbolize all the sadness one heart can absorb. However violence and resilience are not the only things happening there. Paris is also host to the global Climate Change Summit, running from 30 November to 11 December. Yes, there have already been a lot of inter-governmental meetings on this topic. And, yes, there will probably be a lot more. But this one is particularly important because it aims to reach a new global agreement on aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This Summit arrives just as 2015 is declared likely the warmest year on record. While there are legitimate differences of opinion, the mainstream scientific consensus is that we face ‘severe and pervasive impacts’ to human life. Those impacts strike unequally. The USA and other industrialized countries have caused the problem, and they continue to dominate emissions policy negotiations, while developing countries bear most of the pain. Within countries, the poor and marginalized face the toughest situations of all. There is good reason to consider unjust climate policy as a form of violence.

So we have more than one problem. And those problems are now colliding. The French government has cancelled a public outdoor march that was scheduled to coincide with the invitation-only Climate Change Summit. This seems reasonable in light of the heightened state of Paris security but guess what? it further silences the voices of ordinary people, including those most affected by climate change. It makes it less likely that we will achieve fair and scientifically adequate outcomes.

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Small steps of change. This isn’t petrol!

 

So what can I do? I can pray for a heart big enough to hold more than one problem at a time. And for discernment in how to invest my time. These dilemmas are very practical – for example, this weekend in Seattle, there is a Black Lives Matter event that has been on my calendar for months. There is a Rally for Refugees. And now there are multiple climate events, designed to stand in for the global crowd that won’t be marching in Paris. I don’t have the capacity to do all of these things.

So…gulp…this weekend I’m choosing a climate rally. Frankly I’d be much more comfortable marching for black lives or refugees, and it will hurt to miss those events. But my personal conviction is that if we continue to ignore climate change, it may soon overtake the rest of our problems. Climate may become like an unexpected fire that consumes our towns while we are busy fighting with our neighbors.

So, off I go to march for climate justice. And to actively support the friends and colleagues who are hitting the streets to speak out on other issues. There are far too many problems in this world to tackle them in isolation. Let’s link our arms and take action together.

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This week there are more than 2300 marches taking place all over the world, to coincide with the Paris Climate Change Summit. To find an event near you, check out: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/event/globalclimatemarch

 

 

 

 


Homemade Lessons for a Global Life

May 10, 2015

Nancy GarredIn honor of Mother’s Day, this is a modified version of the eulogy that I wrote for my Mom, Nancy Garred, who passed away on 30 January. Mom loved being locally rooted, living nearly 50 years in Tumwater, Washington State, and all her life in the Pacific Northwestern USA. I, however, lost my local roots in my early twenties. This is my own reflection, summed up in the words of a recent Dodge commercial: “Don’t every forget where you come from!”

Here’s the thing: many kids do forget where they came from, and globe-trotting kids like me are worse than most. After spending half my adult life overseas, ‘home’ became a foreign country, and ‘family’ a cross-cultural experience. I became very different from my parents, to the extent that we sometimes lacked enough common interests to sustain a lively conversation. Even so, I recently realized recently how deep their influence runs. Here are five powerful lessons for life – and for peacebuilding – that I learned through observing my Mom.

Lesson #1: Value all people equally. I was pretty unaware of status differences during my early childhood, and that was Mom’s doing. She befriended an unusually wide range of different types of people, from different stations in life, and she treated them all with respect. I did not recognize until later in life that this was rare. Mom made it look normal, just as it should be.

Lesson #2: Live simply. Mom did not put on airs. She did not spend what she had; she spent only what was necessary to get the job done. She did not try to create an ‘image’ for herself; she just lived every day in the straightforward, understated way that she thought best. I think she enjoyed life a great deal because of it!

Lesson #3: Believe in girl power. It was a privilege to be raised by a 1960s-era feminist, in the best sense of the term. I never doubted my ability to contribute to the world, or my right to pursue it. Of course we are all products of our generation – so Mom never did shed the assumption that it’s every wife’s job to cook every night! But she challenged her generation on its own terms, and she came out on top.

Lesson #4: Love nature. Nature was a constant, life-giving presence in our family, from our pets to our camping excursions. There were times when Mom despaired of my impatience with bird watching, or my teenage preference for shopping malls over woodlands. But I grew out of it. I ended up an open-water swimming, forest running adult with a growing passion about climate change. I came to see that peace among humans requires harmony with our environment.

Lesson #5: Be true to who you are. Mom enjoyed being quiet, disliked religious institutions, grew to distrust medical advice, prized independence … and she never pretended otherwise. In her older years she occasionally appeared stubborn. But there is great freedom in having the courage to simply be yourself. When I follow this example, I breathe easier, and I relate to others more easily too.

Some of these truths are deeply rooted in me as a person and as a peacebuilder. Others are things that I still aspire to. For all of them, I thank my Mom, Nancy. Her quiet influence lives on!

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Nancy Jo (Bailey) Garred lived an amazing and vibrant life, far more than one eulogy from one daughter can capture! To see her obituary, go to: http://www.islandfuneral.com/notices/Nancy-Garred.


Ferguson: No silence, no acceptance

August 17, 2014
National Moment of Silence - from the Seattle PI

National Moment of Silence – from the Seattle PI

I usually resist the urge to write about every heartbreaking event that comes along. I’m a slow blogger, and by the time I finally write something the moment has often passed.

But here’s the thing: silence sometimes looks like acceptance.

So let’s talk right now about Ferguson, Missouri. This looks like complex situation in which a lot of people made a lot of mistakes. But I want to state my opinion on a few things that do seem clear.

It is absolutely not OK that an unarmed Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer. And it is not OK that this event is linked to a broader racialized pattern. The US criminal justice system, from the police departments to the courts, appears to treat minorities in disproportionately negative ways. Especially African American men. For evidence, reading The New Jim Crow is a good place to start.

It is not OK that this system persists partly because white Americans remain silent. Silence looks like acceptance, and acceptance stands in the way of change.

So, white friends, please stand up and be counted, even it feels uncomfortable. If you believe that black lives matter, please say so. If you think the criminal justice system needs to change and improve, please say so. Just stand up and say it.


A Conversation on Genocide and Whiteness

August 3, 2014

Jean-BaptisteJean-Baptiste, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, wants his story told and remembered. I had the privilege to sit in his home and listen. Listen.

It started with house burnings. Then cattle thefts. Then machete hacks and seven days in a pit, praying, surrounded by the dying and the dead. Ten siblings among the 800,000 lives lost. Jean-Baptiste says he is grateful now for life, but never free of pain.

He builds the future by teaching his children a different way, acceptance and even love towards all. He tells his story as a form of healing. But, he says troubled, he once met some visiting “white people,” Westerners, who do not believe his story.

I’m completely stunned. Yes, some deny the Holocaust – Lord, have mercy – but those horrific crimes were not televised like the Rwandan genocide. Did these white people somehow miss the unfolding genocide on global TV news? Are they hard-core media skeptics? Or too young to remember?

Jean-Baptiste himself does not get much international news, and he implies that he sees mass slaughter as unique to Rwanda. In this view, perhaps genocide is completely new to the visitors, something never seen or heard. Perhaps that is why these white people failed to believe.

However I need a different theory, because I believe that most white Westerners are plugged into a steady stream of media. Being uninformed about genocide seems unlikely, especially among those who travel. It seems more likely that these white people believed with their minds, but not with their humanity. I ask myself, where did the humanity fail?

Were these white people among those who truly feel the pain of faraway tragedies, but get so overwhelmed by the world’s repetitive bloodletting and grief that their hearts eventually go numb?

Or … did these white people keep Jean-Baptiste’s story at a distance because it was uncomfortably similar to their own? Did they recognize their own society’s past – or future – in his story of mass murder? Are their own people perpetrators? Or victims?

Or … did these white people simply remain unresponsive, leaving Jean-Baptiste to wonder: If a fellow human being has not tried to help me in an emergency, have they really ‘believe’ that the emergency happened? Can true ‘belief’ exist without solidarity and action?

I will never know the answer. It was not the right moment to ask Jean-Baptiste for more explanation. All I know is that in his experience, the whiteness of these visitors was directly related to their failure to believe.

There was only enough time for me to tell Jean-Baptiste that I was very sorry he met some white people who did not respect his story…that I know other white people who do believe and respect it…and that I am one of them.

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I remain deeply grateful to Jean-Baptiste for inviting me, with a small group of friends, into his home earlier this year. It has taken me several months to ‘process’ the experience. And I will not forget.


2013: Signs of Hope in Seattle

December 31, 2013


I see broken inter-group relationships everywhere I go. This is part of my DNA as a peacebuilder, but it can become heavy. I must remind myself to celebrate the positive. There were signs of hope around Seattle in 2013.

2013

Representative Jim McDermott introduced the Duwamish Tribal Recognition Act. There’s a history here of broken promises. The Duwamish are lacking federal recognition, and the rights and resources that come along with it. This particular bill may or may not solve the problem, but it’s heartening to see that the issue will not die.

The University of Washington, whose student body is less than 50% Euro-American, approved a new diversity education requirement for undergraduates. This effort will not add to students’ course load, but it will refocus it in a meaningful way. Great work, alma mater! I’m proud of you.

The Seattle Police Department is undergoing serious reform after being diagnosed with excessive use of force and suspected of racial bias. The process is not pretty; rumor has it there are significant pockets of resistance. However with the US Justice Department closely monitoring progress, there are bound to be some improvements.

Also in 2013, Seattle’s own Breakthrough Partners and Beloved Community launched the first annual Martin Luther King Jr Prayer Breakfast, adding a faith-based element to Seattle’s already impressive slate of MLK Day celebrations. The 2014 prayer breakfast will start early at 7 AM, but I trust we’ll have strong coffee. I wouldn’t miss it.

The County Council reached a compromise solution on hold requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). King County will end deportation holds on immigrants arrested for low-level offenses. This means that if you commit a traffic infraction, you pay the price for a traffic infraction – but you don’t get summarily deported. King County will continue to comply with ICE on larger offenses, so this policy may be reviewed again. For now, this middle-of-road compromise looks like a small victory for common sense.

Just yesterday, I read this uplifting quip from Indian Country Media Network:

“RESPECTFUL LOGO: The Spokane Indians baseball team, a Class A Northwest League team that’s affiliated with the Texas Rangers, have long collaborated with the Spokane Tribe of Indians in a partnership, and will make a logo in the Salish language the main logo on the front of its home uniforms for the 2014 season.”

This out-of-the-box solution that came through mutual respect and listening. I enter 2014 with a smile.


What does God think of Thanksgiving?

December 8, 2013

The turkey leftovers are gone, but I’m still thinking. Most of us know that the ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ story taught in school has been – ahem – sanitized. But the day is about being thankful, so it’s all good, right?

ImageWell, sort of. I do like Thanksgiving. It’s not about the food; it’s about being prompted to give thanks, to truly appreciate life. It’s counter-cultural act in an age of greed. The implication, often unspoken, is that many of us express our thanks directly to God.

So, what does God think about all this? I do believe God appreciates a grateful attitude. Not because God needs the ‘kudos’ but because God know it is the healthiest way for us to live. Giving thanks is a beautiful thing.

But what if it’s not just a simple harvest festival? What if we are commemorating a harvest that took place in a new land, where some other people were already living? And what if those other people were ultimately conquered and dispossessed?

Even today there is a disconnect between the views of ‘Indian’ and ‘Pilgrim’ descendants. For a range of feelings, check out the Thanksgiving coverage on Indian Country Today Media Network.  Some people are giving thanks, but others consider Thanksgiving a day of mourning and protest.

This disconnect is obvious, but I don’t hear many European Americans talking about it. In fact, the only white person I hear talking about it is comedian pundit Jon Stewart:

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

The truth hurts. So, looking at this in spiritual terms, how might God see American Thanksgivings? In the path of Jesus, which I aim to follow, the scriptures teach that we can’t fully worship God when our human relationships are messed up. Right relationships are a prerequisite for true thanksgiving.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.” (The Gospel According to Matthew 5:23-24, Today’s New International Version)

I know that other faiths have related teachings, and I hope readers will share them with me. Let’s explore the possibilities together. How might a more holistic understanding of thanksgiving prompt us to do things differently? How could we rewrite the future Thanksgiving story in a way that God can really celebrate?


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