A conversation at the YMCA

I was in the changing room at the Y when I heard the most amazing thing. This lady who I’ve known for a few years through my water aerobics class asked me what I thought about “The Trump thing”. She actually didn’t even give me time to give an answer. She started saying that “He has a point, that all the terrorist attacks were being done by Muslims and so it was a good idea to keep them out of this country.” She even said that she had some Muslim friends but she still thought that it was a good idea.

I paused and looked at her and shook my head a little. I said “I can’t believe that you’re actually saying this. I can’t agree with you at all.”

She said “What? All the terrorist acts have been done by Muslims.”

I said
“What about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine murderers?
What about Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah federal building?
What about James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter?
What about Sandy Hook massacre, by Adam Lanza?

These are all acts of terrorism
that have been perpetrated
by young white males.
They weren’t Muslim.”

Sadly, the list is much longer than these that I could recall off the top of my head, with all of them committed by young, white, males.

I then quoted this famous speech from Martin Niemöller, speaking about how the German people didn’t stand up against the Nazis during World War 2.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I said “I can’t stand behind this entire idea of keeping people out based on their ethnicity. That’s racist.”

I repeated the word “racist” several times through the last part of my discussion. I wanted her to hear it for what it is. I wanted her to think about her support of something that is as dangerous, as un-Christian, as inhuman as racism. I’m sure she didn’t even think of herself as being racist.

At the same time I was thinking of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were slaughtered by their own countrymen over three months, simply because they were seen as “other”, as “lesser”. They were called “cockroaches” by the leaders, who encouraged average citizens to take up machetes and kill their own neighbors. I’m sure they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong either.

When we marginalize a group, when we group them together and say that the actions of a few represent the whole and propose eliminating the entire group, then that has moved from racism into genocide. We have to stop this entire way of thinking before it is allowed to get to this point. These are like weeds that will take over the garden, choking out all beauty in the world.

At the end of my speech, she said she didn’t know all of that. She recognized the names but hadn’t put it together. She hadn’t realized that in America, more acts of terror have been committed by non-Muslims than Muslims.

I’m grateful for all the classes that I’ve taken that allowed me to maintain my cool and answer her in a calm way to educate her. Years ago I would have thought she was wrong, but not been able to speak up. Now, I was able to not only take a stand against a racist but also to educate her.

We must all be lights in this world. We must all combat racism and ignorance no matter where it erupts.

Why do women have to cover?

Why don’t Muslims cover up men’s eyes rather than cover up women’s bodies? Why don’t they make some sort of headband/facemask combination that forces their eyes downward and makes it possible for them to only see a few feet in front of them while they walk? It would make life difficult for them but it would certainly stop them from accidentally becoming aroused by women and being unable to control themselves and feeling like they have to attack them.

They must think that women are very powerful and that men have no power at all. Merely by existing, merely by showing an elbow or a calf, a woman can cause a man to lose his self-control. If he has so little self-control then doesn’t this mean he has no self-control? Why do women have to cover themselves up for modesty when it is the fault of someone else if they cross a line?

If I am an omnivore, should I stop eating meat in front of vegetarians for fear that it will make them start eating animals? This is the same issue. It is saying that my actions control another person’s actions.

The Muslim faith is not alone in this. There are sections of the Orthodox Jewish faith that have women not only cover their heads because their hair is seen as sensuous, but the women have to shave their heads as well. The idea is that by shaving their heads (at least monthly) there is no chance that a hair will accidentally show – and thus accidentally weaken a man’s resolve.

I have a strong belief that the original intent of Islam and of Orthodoxy was not to control women, and to reduce men into knee-jerk autopilot sex machines. I believe that both faiths originally respected both genders. I have a suspicion that over the many years since the faiths’ inceptions some radical detours have been made by well-meaning, but control-happy people (namely, men).

How about we stop coddling men by making policies that say that women are responsible for men’s behaviors? How about we stop saying “boys will be boys”? How about we expect men to have self-control, and not feel the need to disturb (and I’m putting it lightly) women?

Cover part three

(The final part of today’s musings.)

I realized something else about today’s events, after going to lunch. I currently only cover my hair at home or at work on the Sabbath. It’s a new thing to start covering my hair among friends if we go out together. It is like I’m coming out.

I have never had my hair covered with a tichel and been alone around strangers. When I was in college I used a snood or a bandanna, but not for the same reason I do now. And the climate was more tolerant then. There was less paranoia about Islam. My haircovering isn’t a hijab, but most Americans aren’t that savvy. A cloth on a head is a cloth on a head.

When I cover my hair at work I’m around people who don’t quite understand, but I am in a place that I have worked at for 14 years. The patrons know me there and because I work at the library I’m afforded a certain level of respect. Generally they are supportive if they say anything at all. Sometimes they are concerned that I might have cancer. I have since started exposing a bit of my hair at the top or showing some bangs so that they don’t worry about that.

But I just thought about it in a different way. What if I was in a restaurant by myself? What is to stop someone coming up to me and challenging me or accusing me of being a terrorist, thinking I’m wearing a hijab? That’s really frightening.

Or saying that “You need to go back home!” even though I was born and raised here, and am very white?

Or even saying that I’m not a real woman because I cover my hair? So many people think that a woman who covers her hair has to do it, or is forced to do it. They don’t get that it is a choice. To do so in America is even more a sign of a choice. It is even harder to do it here, because it is so unusual, especially in the South.

Multi-faith prayer beads.

This is a new creation. These are prayer beads, in a whole new way.

bead2

I took three different sets of prayer beads, broke them apart, and then put them back together again. There is no centerpiece, and there is no beginning or end. They are all connected, and they are all one. I have included a fourth faith tradition as well with the number of beads that I used.

bead4

I have Hindu prayer beads, made with rudraksha seeds, said to be the face of Shiva. These are the knobbly brown beads.

I have Christian prayer beads, from a Catholic rosary. These are the ones that are made with iridescent faceted glass.

I have Buddhist prayer beads, made with bone that has been dyed with the OM symbol, to reference the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”

Then I have put them all together so that there are three sets of 11 beads, so there are 33. This references Islamic prayer beads, which sometimes have 33 beads, which are said three times to complete the 99 names of God.

Four faiths, in one chain, hand linked with copper wire, because it is a conductor of electricity and power.
bead1

We are all one. We are all searching for connection with our Creator. We seek unity.
bead3

Here, now, is a visual symbol of it.

9-11-2013

Today is the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. I don’t think we’ll ever forget that day. That day was a landmark day in America – a day where everything changed. It was a day we mark time by, like the day Kennedy was shot, or the day the Challenger shuttle exploded. We changed after those days. We lost some of our innocence.

It is important to remember that just a few people took part in that plan, not an entire religion. We can’t paint everyone with the same brush. This is a country that was founded on religious freedom. The Puritans came here because they wanted to be able to practice religion their way, without persecution. This is part of what makes America amazing. People from all around the world come here to be free.

Yet we stopped being free after that day. We all stopped being able to live freely without the government watching us. We are tracked, photographed, interrogated, and frisked. Our every move, cyber and real, is watched. We can’t get on a plane without being scanned. Our passports and IDs have security features they didn’t have before. Young boys who are any shade of brown are at a risk for murder by cop just for walking down the street.

We are all hyper aware. We are all on our toes. The collective paranoia is a bit much.

Sure, life is a lot safer and saner here than in much of the rest of the world. Bomb blasts aren’t normal. We don’t hear of attacks so often that we are immune to them. They still shock us. Being kidnapped and tortured is still something that doesn’t happen here on a daily basis. We still think we are fairly civilized.

But there is still a lingering fear that we are headed that way.

And while we are fairly enlightened enough to say that not all Muslims are terrorists, we are wary. While we can admit that the Westboro Baptist Church, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart don’t represent all Christians, at least their actions haven’t killed anybody. There is just bombast, not bombs. Their actions result hard feelings and ugliness – but not death.

I want to trust all Muslims, but I don’t. I want Islam to be a religion of peace, but if you judge a tree by its fruits there’s a poison apple there. Sure, there are many many more Muslims who are peaceful than jihadist, just like there are many more Progressive Christians than Fundamentalist. But I’m wary. I’m afraid. I think deep down many Americans are, but don’t have the words for it. We want to be kind and forgiving and trusting, but we hesitate.

I want everyone to be able to follow Creator in the way that they are called to follow their Creator, no matter whether they use the name Jehovah or Allah or any other name, or none at all. We have the same source. I want everybody who lives in America to feel free to live their lives the way they want to live them – up until it infringes on other people being able to live their lives. If someone doesn’t like Western culture – if they think it is too extravagant, too ostentatious, too carnal – then don’t participate in it. It is totally possible to live here and not do any of those things that define average American culture.

The Amish do it.

Instead of attacking what they don’t like, they live their lives as an example. But just as they don’t want to be forced to live life the standard American way, we don’t want to be forced to live life their way. This works for Amish and Muslims and anybody.

There has to be a middle ground. There has to be trust. There has to be dialogue, not debate. It isn’t either-or. It is yes-and. We can live in peace. We can share.

We can all get along. Teach us by example. Show us peace, by living it.