Liberty and Independence


wiesel

Lately I’ve been asking myself why it often seems it’s not okay to express a dissenting opinion. Our disagreements have become offensive to the opposing sides, and the hate and vitriol I see expressed on a range of topics discussed on social media have made me wonder if, with any passionate issue, there is truly an impossible-to-cross chasm between the opposing “sides.”

On most matters, I think the chasm isn’t really so wide. It only appears so because opinions expressed are primarily by those on the outskirts of the issue, often with such slammed-down force that none but other “extremists” have the nerve to express their agreement or dissent.

Typically, I tell myself, “It’s not worth getting involved.” But as uncomfortable as conflict makes me (I run from it like a child runs from a monster in the night) I’m trying change my attitude toward it.

dalai lama

More and more, I see the necessity of disagreement. We must disagree or there is no real dialogue and often no real understanding of the issue or between the “sides,” therefore, no real progress.

gandhi

I’ve thought a lot about Elie Wiesel‘s quote. I believe there is value in disagreeing and that on some issues, we MUST take sides:

Neutrality helps the oppressor: Because it’s safe and to some extent, anonymous, social media often brings out contempt and hostility toward those who express an opposing opinion, regardless of the topic. This past week, I saw it expressed on both sides of issues regarding the Confederate flag and the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage.

In the past, I’ve stayed out of heated discussions on politics, religion–anything that became heated. I simply didn’t want to be sucked into the anger. In other words, I remained publicly neutral, hid from the “monster,” allowed my liberty to be hampered.

So what happens when only those on the periphery “go to battle,” where the fight gets nastier and nastier, a place the media loves to exploit? We begin to believe we’re farther apart than we really might be–we have an enemy–an enemy we don’t have to talk to, an enemy we refuse to understand. And so, we refuse to consider “the other side” in any meaningful way.

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented: Harsh, angry commentary discourages opposition, hampers liberty, which I believe is the goal of those who respond with such condescension. Silence from the “opposition” is empowering.

For expressing my opposing opinion in the last week–and I believe I was respectful–I was called a Kool-Aid drinker and a Sheeple.

Well, let me say I’m a conservative who believes the Confederate flag should be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol, though I also believe every individual should have the right to fly it. That also means every individual has the right to think what they will about it. I also believe every business has the right to sell or not sell it, to display or not display it. Let the market decide the effect of those decisions.

And, I’m a conservative who agreed with the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. Following is the opinion of the court:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

Much of the uproar I read on social media revolves around anger that the church will be forced to perform these marriages.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy addressed this issue explicitly:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

The way I understand it, the SCOTUS ruling recognizes gay marriage as lawful, with all the same rights as a marriage between a man and a woman. Live and let live.

Neither of these opinions falls in line with the Conservative “platform,” so calling me a Kool-Aid drinker or Sheeple doesn’t make much sense.

I have no doubt the passion ugliness will worsen with the upcoming presidential election. I already see it.

cory-booker

As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s encourage independent thinking. Let’s agree to disagree, and do it respectfully. At the very least, taking sides/speaking up/disagreeing makes our world more interesting/encourages discussion/adds checks and balances/moves us toward understanding and compromise/improves the outcome.

At worst, all one has to do is recall the times in history where dissent was discouraged or forbidden.

No more will I “give up my essential liberty” for the sake of “temporary safety.” But to the best of my ability, I’ll disagree with respect.

Happy Independence Day!

(and may all your fireworks be pleasant ones.) :)

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Floating Home–Finalist, Little Tokyo Historical Society


Earlier this year, I entered “Floating Home” into the Little Tokyo Historical Society Short Story Contest. I was excited to learn that it was a finalist in the contest where the main requirements were that the story incorporate Little Tokyo and be less than 2,500 words.

Prior to entering, I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about the history of Little Tokyo, (located near Los Angeles,) since my mother and her family were living in northern California at the time they were relocated to internment camps in Tule Lake and Topaz. But the area has a fascinating multicultural history. Following is a synopsis of the book, Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo:

Little TokyoIn 1884, a Japanese sailor named Hamanosuke Shigeta made his way to the eastern section of downtown Los Angeles and opened Little Tokyo’s first business, an American-style cafe. By the early 20th century, this neighborhood on the banks of the Los Angeles River had developed into a vibrant community serving the burgeoning Japanese American population of Southern California.

When Japanese Americans were forcibly removed to internment camps in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entrance into World War II, Little Tokyo was rechristened “Bronzeville” as a newly established African American enclave popular for its jazz clubs and churches. Despite the War Relocation Authority’s opposition to re-establishing Little Tokyo following the war, Japanese Americans gradually restored the strong ties evident today in 21st-century Little Tokyo–a multicultural, multigenerational community that is the largest Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the United States.

Of course, with the friendship between two of  my characters from The Red Kimono–Japanese American, Sachi and her African American best friend, Jubie–I couldn’t resist the opportunity to create a short story around Little Tokyo.

At first, I wrote “Floating Home” using Sachi and Jubie as my characters, but the story strayed too far from The Red Kimono, so I created two new characters, Mariko and Joey. But as you read the story, you’ll see the characters are very similar.

If you’d like to read the full story, click HERE on Discover Nikkei’s website.

Following is an excerpt, written in Mariko’s point of view:

Life is a river 
Shall I fight the current or 
Let go and float home?
Papa removed his hat and leaned into the cab window. “Can you take us to First and San Pedro?” he asked.
“Sure. Get in.” The cab driver snuffed his cigarette in the ashtray before getting out to open the trunk. Papa tossed in our suitcases, then took the front seat. Mama and I scooted into the back.
“Why didn’t Papa give him the address to our house?” I whispered.
She put her finger to her mouth. “Shhh!”
She’d been doing that a lot lately. Mama and Papa had both kept secrets on our journey back to California from the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. Why, I didn’t know, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’d just turned fourteen, old enough to know what was going on.
I turned away so Mama wouldn’t see me roll my eyes and stared out the cab window at all the things I’d missed about California. Camp had been a dull place, surrounded by cotton fields in the middle of nowhere. We’d planted petunias and marigolds to try to brighten things up, but there was only so much we could do to improve a barbed-wire camp filled with black tarpaper barracks.
Outside the taxi window, the mountains I’d missed surrounded me like an embrace, welcoming me home. While in camp, I realized I’d taken so much for granted about home—the sound and scent of the ocean on a Saturday afternoon, the cry of a seagull, the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. A car sped by. I’d even missed the traffic.
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Jesus Wept


Jan Morrill:

Pamela Foster’s post is honest, thoughtful and thought-provoking–as always.

Originally posted on Pamela Foster, Author and Speaker:

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Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin…

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Reflections on a Symbol


First of all, I’m not a born-and-raised Southerner, so I’ll admit I’m coming from a different perspective from my friends who are. Still, I must admit I’ve been surprised at the passion, even vitriol at times, expressed in recent days about the Confederate flag.

I also admit I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write more on the matter, at least beyond what I added to a good friend’s thread on Facebook, where I was clearly in the minority. It kind of sucks the wind right out of me when I try to explain my position and nobody seems to “hear” me. Instead some fly off in their own direction, sharing their own versions of history and expounding on their fears of every other way “they” are taking over this country. Some even accuse anyone who disagrees of drinking the “Kool-Aid” of the “other side.”

But here I am, almost twelve hours and a good walk in the woods later, and I’ve decided to give it a try, though I may not hit the “Publish” button.

First of all, as I said in my comments on Facebook, everyone is entitled to their opinion, on this and every other matter. My opinion is simply that I don’t think the Confederate flag–a flag that represents racism to so many–should fly at a state capital building that represents all citizens of that state.

This does NOT mean that I think people who believe the flag represents the pride and heritage of the south shouldn’t display it. That does NOT mean that I think the government should forbid individuals from displaying the flag, nor do I believe the government has moved in that direction, though many seem to think they have.

True, some individuals and corporations have removed the Confederate flag, and that is their right to do so, just as it’s anyone’s right to no longer give those institutions more business.

Again, I’m not a Southerner, so I accept that I don’t “get” the sentiment attached to the flag. I do, however, understand the frustration expressed by those who want to fly the Confederate flag that their displaying it in no way means they are racists. My friends who want to fly the Confederate flag are NOT racists. They see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride.

Yet, I also understand how my African American friends are offended by the flag based on its history. Surely my Southern friends can understand this.

Yet, we are unable to find compromise.

I learned a few things about the Confederate flag today, and what I learned doesn’t seem to match many of the sentiments I heard expressed today.

I’ve taken the following facts from two articles:

The Confederate states went through three official flags during the four-year Civil War, but none of those three was the battle flag that’s at the center of the current controversy.

CF4The fourth flag, and the one about which there has been so much discussion, was the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s army unit, as well as several other Confederate units at the end of the war. However, when the war ended, according to CNN, “Lee distanced himself from divisive symbols of a Civil War that his side lost.”

According to the CNN article, the fourth Confederate flag turned up only occasionally between the end of the Civil War and 1948, when:

South Carolina politician Strom Thurmond ran for president under the newly founded States Rights Democratic Party, also known as the Dixiecrats. The party’s purpose was clear: “We stand for the segregation of the races,” said Article 4 of its platform.

As desegregation progressed through the decades, more and more the flag became an emblem of white supremacist groups.

These are historical facts. Surely those who want to continue to fly the Confederate flag understand why it is offensive to many. Are we simply to ignore this?

I’ve been surprised at how little recognition I’ve seen (in fact, in a few instances, I’ve seen downright denial) of the symbolism of slavery, segregation and white supremacy.

Again, I absolutely do not believe my friends who have a sentimental attachment to the Confederate flag are racists. Yet, I don’t understand how some of them seem unable to accept how many, particularly African Americans, may see anyone who flies the flag that way.

Part of the problem is that many refuse to see the “other side” and are entrenched in their own opinions and beliefs, seemingly unwilling to compromise.

I have an idea. Why not fly one of the three Confederate flags that existed BEFORE the fourth flag–the flag that is now so divisive? To my knowledge, none of those flags were used as symbols by racists.

I’d be interested to hear other ideas. So far, all I’ve seen is a bunch of name-calling and finger-pointing. We’ll never get anywhere that way.

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This Little Light


quilt

Quilt that hangs over the altar at United Church of Santa Fe

I’m ashamed to admit I considered not going to church with my father on Father’s Day. I can weasel out a bit of an excuse–that on Saturday we’d driven ten hours from Dallas to Santa Fe and we were tired.

Fortunately, the “little voice” inside me chastised me when I woke early Sunday morning: (Or, maybe it was God.)

You know how much your dad would like to bring his daughter to church, don’t you? You’re going to regret it if you don’t go. Get your lazy self out of bed.

And so, I went to church with my dad. I’m grateful I did, not only because it was the right thing to do on Father’s Day, but because I needed to hear the sermon given by Reverend Talitha Arnold at the United Church of Santa Fe.

Reverend Arnold’s sermon was about Exodus. She told the congregation she’d planned this sermon over a month ago:

Several weeks ago, I chose the story of Moses’ experience of God in the burning bush for this Sunday for two reasons. One, like the other stories we’re exploring this summer, it’s about an ordinary person–Moses the shepherd and family man–being called by God. Two, it’s a great story for the Sunday of the summer solstice and also the week when we begin United’s solar installation in earnest. What better example of God’s gift of the sun’s energy than this story of a bush that burns, but is not consumed?

Little did she know the relevance her sermon on Exodus would hold:

Then came the attack by a young white man on African-American people gathered for Wednesday night prayer in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston–and the Exodus text for this Sunday took on a whole new meaning. Or more accurately, it demanded a deeper remembrance.

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Before Reverend Arnold’s sermon, I didn’t know the relevance of Exodus to African Americans–to our nation:

The story of the Exodus–one of the core narratives of the faith we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers–is also central to who we are as a nation. Throughout our country’s centuries of slavery, this story of God hearing the cries of the Hebrew slaves and leading them to freedom gave hope to African-Americans enslaved by European-Americans, including the nation’s founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Bible’s story of the Exodus reminded African-Americans that God heard their cries, even in slavery. That God was not on the side of either the Southern slave masters nor of the Northerners who had help create and benefitted from the systematic dehumanization and brutalization of other human beings. Instead God was the One who knew their suffering.

But the message that I heard loudest, came in her words of what she believes we’re called to do:

For us at the United Church of Santa Fe– a predominately white congregation, thousands of miles from Charleston–what does this story from Exodus say to us, demand from us in this time? Several things, I believe. One, like Moses, we are called to turn aside from whatever else might distract us and turn our attention to what we have seen. As white Christians, we are called by our faith to pay attention and not move on to the next media event. Two, like Moses, we are called to respond: “Here I am.” Three, as God called Moses, God calls us to hear what God hears and see what God sees–the misery of God’s people, the cries of those who suffer. Four, like Moses–a Hebrew man raised in Pharaoh’s court– we are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just “happened” at a church in Charleston but as part of the history of racial violence in our country. Finally, like Moses, we are called to respond to that suffering and to that violence.

This was the message I needed to hear–a message that gave me courage to speak. I’ve begun several blog posts over the last year about race-based events that have filled the news. In most cases, I’ve “chickened-out,” mostly afraid of offending one or both “sides” by saying something that is not “politically correct.”

And yet, it is that very silence from so many of us that worsens the problem of race relations in our country.

During Sunday’s sermon, this is the voice I heard in my head:

Look at you, critical of mainstream Muslims not speaking up against radical Islamists, yet you’re afraid to speak up against racism.

I must not let my fear-driven silence be taken for lack of concern, or even worse, concordance with the awful things that have happened in our recent and past history.

So, here are some of my thoughts:

  • Though I believe racism still exists in this country, I do not believe we are a racist nation. Instead, I think it’s ensconced in the outskirts of our society and it’s implicitly allowed to exist by our silence.
  • We all have our prejudices, not only based on race, but also, politics, social class, sexual orientation, etc. I think these prejudices are born of our ignorance of persons or groups different from us, and it’s made worse by our lack of communication. However, though still destructive, prejudice is not the same as racism.
  • The media does a lot to inflame racial tensions and very little to open rational, respectful dialogue between races.
  • I believe the Confederate flag should come down from the Statehouse in Columbia, SC. True, to many it represents Southern pride and is a symbol of remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But there are many flags in American history that were flown during war time. They do not also represent racism and segregation, and they do not need to be flown for us to remember our veterans. In NPR’s article, “The Complicated Political History of the Confederate Flag,” Jessica Taylor states:

After the war ended, the symbol became a source of Southern pride and heritage, as well as a remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But as racism and segregation gripped the nation in the century following, it became a divisive and violent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups. It was also the symbol of the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or “Dixiecrats,” that formed in 1948 to oppose civil-rights platforms of the Democratic Party.

Take the flag down.

On Sunday, the congregation sang a song I haven’t sung since I was a child attending Sunday school:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

As best I can, I’ll let my light shine. I’ll speak out, speak my truth. It’s time we all do.

We obviously have a problem with race in our country, but that does not mean we’re a racist nation. There are many like me who want understanding between our cultures, who see us as human, not colored humans, but human. This doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, even prejudices. But our fear of talking about it takes us farther and farther apart from each other.

My prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who were killed in Charleston. As Reverend Arnold said, “We are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just ‘happened’ at a church in Charleston…”

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