What If We Applied the Golden Rule?

As if I wasn’t already sad and angry about children being separated from their parents at the border, this viral photo of a Honduran toddler crying while her mother was being searched touched a very personal nerve. The child reminds me of a younger version of my six-year-old granddaughter Selena. Every time I see the photo, I see Selena, and I imagine the anguish I would feel if she or any of my grandchildren were forcibly separated from their parents with no clear indication of when or how (or even if) they will be reunited. (For the story of the photo and John Moore, the photographer, see this article.) (Update, June 22, 2018: The child in this photo was not in fact separated from her mother, but they are both still being detained.*)

Here are just a few of the other things I’ve been pondering as I read about and watch the awfulness that’s happening on our southern border:

The Golden Rule in one form or another is common to all major world religions:

  • Do to others as you would have them do to you (Christianity)
  • Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Buddhism)
  • This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others what you would not have them do to you (Hinduism)
  • No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself (Islam)
  • What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire law; all the rest is commentary (Judaism) (See “The Universality of the Golden Rule in the World Religions.”)

One of the reasons the Old Testament gives for caring for the strangers or aliens living in the land is that the children of Israel were once strangers themselves. The Old Testament and Jesus and Paul in the New Testament all say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (in fact, Paul says this immediately following the passage in Romans 13 so inappropriately used by Attorney General Sessions). The writer to the Hebrews teaches that we should care for those in prison as if we were in prison with them, and those who are mistreated as if we ourselves were suffering. These are all variations of the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. What might it look like if we made a good faith effort to apply the Golden Rule to public policy, especially immigration policy?

I am frustrated beyond my ability to articulate by all the lies, obfuscation, disingenuousness, misinformation, and dissembling being propagated and repeated by various officials in the administration, especially the president himself. One of the most egregious is blaming the Democrats when his party is in control of Congress and he could personally reverse the “zero-tolerance” decision that has led to family separation.

Previous administrations struggled with the illegal immigration issue, and in their efforts to stem the flow didn’t always act humanely either.However, it feels to me like the current level of rhetoric against immigrants (even ones who want to come legally) is much greater than before, often preying on people’s fears of “the other.” This recent New York Times article helped me understand what happened before and what is happening now: How Trump Diverged from Other Presidents and Embraced a Policy of Separating Migrant Families.” 

A recent Politifact article also helps to explain the difference between what President Obama did and what is happening now. And here’s another one from NPR: “What We Know: Family Separation and ‘Zero-Tolerance’ at the Border.”

Administration officials have openly described the practice as a deterrent, but what if instead, we addressed the core reasons so many people try to come to the United States? How might the U.S. nonviolently and compassionately help to address some of the root causes of people becoming desperate enough to risk everything, including family separation, to make the journey? We know that many if not most of the countries that undocumented immigrants are fleeing are poor and violent (by the way, I hate the term “illegal alien” because it feels so dehumanizing). As one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world, with a history of welcoming immigrants (“Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”), what if the U.S. worked with other nations to create a better and more equitable world instead of alienating other democracies and selfishly proclaiming “America first”? We all live on this planet together and are interconnected more than ever before. What hurts one hurts us all, and what helps one helps us all. A Golden Rule philosophy makes so much more practical and moral sense to me that a zero-sum philosophy where there always have to be winners and losers.

Quite honestly, I don’t have the answer to the immigration issue, but I know that the current family separation practice is not the answer and it is not right. It often feels like this is one of those intractable and hopelessly complex issues to which there is no resolution. I think I understand why so many risk everything to try to come to the U.S., but then I also wonder why so many Americans don’t want them to come, sometimes even if they come in legally acceptable ways? The reasons often given include not wanting to give away (or share) limited resources to people who haven’t worked for them, protecting our jobs, or preventing crime – even though the truth is that most immigrants are hard-working, often do jobs that many Americans don’t want, and commit crimes at a lower rate than the rest of the population. I also suspect that a sizable number of Americans are motivated, perhaps despite themselves, by xenophobia (fear and distrust of that which is foreign or strange). Why, really, is it such a bad thing if more people come seeking the same better life our own ancestors did 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 years ago?

If we assume that the idea of countries with borders is a good thing, and believe that countries have the right and responsibility to control who and how many come in, then what is the best way to control those borders and protect national interests? What can we do that is more in keeping with the Golden Rule than separating families, criminalizing people seeking a better life or fleeing war and violence, and building more literal and figurative walls between us and and the rest of the world? I don’t have good answers, but I know we have to try harder to find ones that reflect our national values and the values of our faith. I am horrified and heartsick by the current situation and believe we must do better.

*Addendum: A clarification in the interest of truth. I learned that the toddler was NOT in fact separated from her mother, even though they are both being detained for crossing the border illegally. Some people seem to be suggesting that the fact that the child was not separated from her mother negates the value and credibility of the photo and condemns anyone who uses it to put a face on the human tragedy happening at the border. I am very happy that this child and her mother are together, but the truth is that 2,000+ children are still separated from their families and who knows how long it will take until they are reunited or IF they ever will be. 


Truth Still Matters

In my blog post a few days ago about “Real Patriotism,” I referred parenthetically to the almost 1500 migrant children the Trump administration had “inexplicably lost.” I thought I had fact-checked it, but I discovered later that my original statement was over-generalized and did not account appropriately for the nuances of the situation. So I deleted the statement and I will not repeat it unless I put it in context, including the fact that previous administrations have also lost track of migrant children, sometimes for understandable reasons and sometimes not. (For the record, my confession to writing something that was not the whole story in no way absolves this administration of its anti-immigrant rhetoric and practices, which are cruel and xenophobic.)

Now more than ever, truth matters. The president utters multiple falsehoods and distortions of the truth in a single tweet, and in rallies repeats them to great applause. In an off-camera comment to “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl before his inauguration, he admitted he berates the media to “discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you” (as paraphrased by Stahl). In a recent tweet, he specifically equated negative news about him with “fake news.” As far as he’s concerned, if a story portrays him positively, it’s true; if it’s negative, it’s fake news. According to a Monmouth University poll a couple months ago, 77 percent of those surveyed said that the news media report “fake” stories. Clearly, the president’s gaslighting strategy is working and it’s definitely crazy-making!

Long before the idea of “fake news” became part of everyday life, I would check snopes.com to find out if something was true or false – usually one of those so-called urban legends such as a recent one that Meghan Markle’s rescue dog accompanied Queen Elizabeth to the royal wedding (it didn’t!). I trust Snopes to sort out truth from falsehood. Sometimes when Facebook friends, who as far as I know are truthful people in everyday life, share flatly false (and easily fact-checked) stories, I will post a link to the truth. But then someone might respond that snopes.com, or whatever fact-checking source I referenced, is “liberal” and can’t be trusted. Never mind that snopes.com and the other two I follow – factchecking.org and politifact.com – are deliberately non-partisan, regularly point out falsehoods from all points on the political spectrum, and provide helpful context. It never entered my mind before the current nightmare of falsehoods that there is a liberal or conservative explanation for what is true or false.

When my go-to fact-checking sources rate something as true or false, or somewhere in between (e.g., mostly true, mostly false), I believe them, even when their assessment does not confirm my biases. When their rating calls out someone I respect for speaking falsely, I am always disappointed that he or she did not tell the truth. Besides factcheck.org and politifact.com, I also generally trust the fact-checkers at NPR and at the New York Times and Washington Post, all of whom have decades-old reputations to uphold. I am old enough to remember the role that these newspapers played in exposing not only the truth about how the American people were being misled about the Vietnam War but also the truth about Watergate. In the recent example of the “lost children,” both newspapers published important explanations with the larger context of what is happening now with children at the border and what happened in previous years.

We all need to commit ourselves to tell the truth and not pass on information as fact just because it suits our biases (which I regret I did with the “lost children” story). A society cannot function when we can’t count on people to tell the truth – and when lies, dishonesty, misinformation, distortion, obfuscation, dissembling (choose your favorite word) are commonplace at the highest levels of American life, including the presidency. Everyone who has been lied to knows how difficult it is to trust the person again. Are they lying again, or is this the truth now? Relationships are damaged, sometimes irreparably, when the parties can’t trust each other to tell the truth. This is happening right now on a national scale, and I believe the damage could be long-lasting.

I’ve written before about the importance of truth. In Truth Matters, in January 2017, I wrote: “I feel like I can’t function in a world where facts aren’t facts, where you can just make up stuff and present it as true and real, dismiss a story based on facts that don’t suit your particular bias by calling it ‘fake news,’ or demean and dismiss journalists and newspapers that have dedicated themselves for decades to telling the truth. . . . If nothing is really true anymore, if there are no such things as facts, how can we have any sense of being one nation?” I ended with some coping strategies I’m still trying to follow, and noted that the assault on truth feels like an existential threat, not only to my own sanity but also to the well-being of the nation.

I still feel that way. Truth matters now more than ever.




Real Patriotism

The recent decision of NFL owners to require football players to stand while the national anthem is played before football games got me, along with many others, thinking again about the meaning of patriotism.

As I wrote before (God bless the whole world, no exceptions), I come to this issue as someone born in Zimbabwe to an American mother and a Canadian father (who much later became an American citizen). So I am predisposed by birth and my early years not to pledge blind loyalty to any one country, even the one in which I have now lived for more than 56 of my 70 years. In addition, as a Christian, I believe that we are citizens first of all of God’s kingdom before we are citizens of any particular country. Citizenship in God’s kingdom and its values demand my primary loyalty.

Therefore, pledging allegiance to the flag is difficult for me. I do have patriotic feelings toward the United States, such as love of country and gratitude for the kind of life I and my family enjoy, and those feelings are often stirred when the national anthem is sung or played. But I’m always a bit uncomfortable with its glorification of war (“the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”).

Despite my general discomfort with the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, however, embedded in both of them are important values. The pledge ends with a commitment to “liberty and justice for all,” and the national anthem ends, “O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Liberty/freedom, justice, bravery. These are important ideals, fundamental to what the United States is supposed to be. Which is why it is incomprehensible to me that some would banish to the locker room or otherwise condemn those who respectfully and silently protest the reality that these ideals are not equally available to all in this country and that many people are routinely denied basic justice. Standing with your hand over your heart while the anthem is played/sung and the flag is raised does not necessarily mean that the rest of your life is being lived in ways that advance freedom and justice.

In fact, it seems to me that the very person who lashes out at NFL players who protest, suggesting they should be fired or leave the country, is doing the exact opposite. He threatens basic tenets of democracy (like free speech and the free press), engages in overt and dog-whistle racist speech, assaults the basic rule of law that brings justice, allows cruelty toward children and their parents with his anti-immigrant threats,** and his administration adopts policies and loosens regulations that will make it less likely for everyone to be treated justly and fairly.

There are many ways to be patriotic. Pledging allegiance to the flag and standing for the national anthem, even though I understand how they are important symbols, are insignificant in the great scheme of things. Real patriotism ought to include nonviolent protest and resistance when one’s country is not living up to its highest values and best self, acting in ways that promote rather than restrict liberty and justice for all, and living one’s own life in keeping with those values.

**In the interest of fairness, I note that during the Obama administration’s attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, children and families (many of whom were seeking asylum) were also often held for months in detention camps under inhumane conditions. This was not right then and it’s not right now.

Brownies at Beit School

1st Choma Brownie Pack of 1960, Beit School, Choma

I thought I remembered that a photo like this existed, but I didn’t know if I still had it or where it was. And then earlier this week when I was rummaging in a container of mostly old high school and college yearbooks, I found it. Yay!

On the back of the photo above are these identifying words (I’m so pleased for having at least this once ID’d a photo!): “1st Choma Brownie Pack of 1960.” While I don’t have vivid memories of being a Brownie while I was at Beit, I do recall a few things:

  • We met weekly, probably in the afternoons after our homework was done and before we were called in for our evening routines. It’s possible the meetings were on Saturdays.
  • We worked for badges, although I don’t remember any specific badges that I earned.
  • Our Brownie troop included both boarding and day students.

My Girl Guides pin (Brownies are a a division of Girl Guides for younger girls)

This caption on the back suggests that this was a Brownie troop for the town of Choma, and not specifically run by Beit School. I’m quite sure, however, that we met on the grounds of the boarding hostel. The photo also suggests that we had Brownie uniforms. I’m almost positive the outfits we’re wearing were not our regular school uniforms. I think, though, that the hats we’re wearing in the photo are our felt uniform hats. My copy of the photo is about 4 1/2 x 7 inches. The size and the three well-posed rows of Brownies tell me that this was a formal picture of our troop. Unfortunately, it is a bit over-exposed, although most of the faces are still fairly recognizable.

The only person in the photo I recognize for sure and can name is the girl fourth from the right in the back row. Her name was Judy and she was one of my best friends. I think she lived on a farm in the Kalomo area, south of Choma, and I’m pretty sure I went home with her for a weekend visit one time.

When I first found the photo this week, what struck me forcefully all over again was why I always felt huge as a pre-teen. In case you can’t pick me out, I am the tallest one, fourth from the right in the back row. I am probably 12 in the photo, in my last year at Beit, and therefore one of the oldest girls. I tower above everyone else, even my friend Judy who was also my age and the second tallest. I was often self-conscious about the fact that I matured physically before other girls my age at school, and this photo helps to confirm why!

Back in April 2013, when I wrote about my memories of growing up as a missionary kid in Southern and Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia, I wrote specifically about Beit School, a British-run girls boarding school in Choma, Northern Rhodesia (remember, this was before Northern Rhodesia became the independent country of Zambia). The two posts were Can I Pull My Plug? and Movies and Midnight Feasts (“Boarding School Memories, Parts 1 and 2). In the five years since those two pieces were published here on the blog, they have become my second and fourth most popular posts ever, and in the last 12 months specifically, they are the two most popular posts. Why, you ask? Because, I think, former Beit School students have been taking their own trips down memory lane and searching for information about the school; Google searches for “Beit School” turn up my blog posts.

So I’m kind of hoping that one or two (or more) of the girls in the photo will happen upon this post during their internet searches and respond with their own memories of Beit School in general and this Brownie pack in particular. Wouldn’t it be cool if Judy and I connected again after all these years?!

Reasons to Live: Happy 70th Birthday to Me!

I’ve grown up knowing these familiar words from Psalm 90: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. . . . Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Today I reach that biblical age of 70, and feel very much like I’m not done with life yet. I’m definitely hoping my strength endures until at least 80, and that the best of the days I have left are NOT trouble and sorrow! My parents both lived into their early 90s, as did my maternal grandmother and several aunts and uncles on both sides of my family; longevity is in the genes. But since no one knows how long he or she will live, the Psalmist’s admonition to “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” is good advice.

The reasons I want to go on living are many, but right now they fall into three categories. Two are probably obvious, while the third dips into controversial waters but is something very much on my mind these days.

Our next Cape May beach pic will include two more little ones!

My family. You would expect me to say this, but it’s still true! I love my husband and want to grow old with him. I also love my two children and their spouses, I’m proud of the truly good people they are and how they’ve chosen to live their lives, much of which I never could have imagined 20-25 years ago. I look forward to seeing what else life has in store for them.

Then there are the grandchildren. This year, with the impending arrival of two more, I have a particularly strong reason to want to live. I am so excited about being grandma to twins. I certainly never thought such a thing would happen in our family, but here we are, about two months out from welcoming twins. I want to be available and healthy enough to help with the extra work that will be involved in caring for them, not only in the early months when things are sure to be hectic and stressful for their parents but also in the years to come. Meanwhile, Alecia (15) is fast approaching young adulthood, Justis (almost 12) will be a teenager before you know it, and the “little cousins,” Selena and Piper (six just yesterday and four, respectively), won’t be little much longer. They’re all growing up and I want to be around to see it happen. I never knew three of my own grandparents, and the fourth always seemed somewhat stern and remote, so I want my grandchildren to remember this grandma (me) as available, generous, and at least a little fun to be around.

Doing what I enjoy. In retirement, I haven’t been bored. There’s always something else to think about doing. Sometimes, I feel like I still have too many deadlines – as soon as I get one publication to the printer, it’s time to work on the next, or I’m working on multiple projects simultaneously. I remind myself that being able to manage all those projects and deadlines relatively competently is a sign that my brain is still working well, and that’s encouraging! In addition to the formal editorial assignments I still have (mostly volunteer, with one small paid contract that is almost over), I want to continue writing for myself. I’m part of two book clubs and always have a pile of non-book-club books waiting on my to-read list. With the impending arrival of twin grandbabies, Dale and I have put our travel plans on hold for a bit, but there are still places I’d like to go – especially in other parts of the world.

One of my fraternal twin-themed knitting projects

Knitting also continues to give me pleasure. Lately, I’ve read a number of articles touting the health benefits of knitting, providing justification for my yarn stash and habit of checking out local yarn stores wherever we travel. I will never measure up to my mother’s knitting skills, but it won’t be for lacking of knitting! And then there’s always the basement with its boxes of memorabilia to be sorted (while memories are jogged) and “stuff” to be thrown away. I only wish I enjoyed the de-cluttering process as much as I enjoy lots of other things!

Surviving a national nightmare. Sometime, after he became president following the resignation of Richard Nixon over Watergate, Gerald Ford declared: “Our long national nightmare is over.” Now I feel like we are in the middle of another national nightmare, and I long for the day when this one is over. I can’t count the number of times someone has said about something our current president has done or said, “This is not normal.” I know that “not normal” is exactly why many people voted for him, but personally I’d like a bit of normal.

I’ll spare you my detailed list of the things about this presidency that are not normal and distress me, but here’s a sampling: regular attacks on the basic underpinnings of democracy and the rule of law, unprecedented levels of dishonesty and misinformation, gaslighting, petty insults and bullying that are beneath the dignity of anyone let alone the president of the United States, hypocrisy, racist and xenophobic language and behavior, apparent conflicts of interest and self-dealing, questionable ethics, ill-advised and mean-spirited policies, and so on.

As I’ve said before, I expect the typical ebb and flow of policy changes when one party takes over from another. I can somewhat understand how the president’s supporters believe he is doing exactly what they wanted when they voted for him. What I can’t understand is how policy changes are worth the assaults on democracy, fundamental decency, truth, and basic morality, and how so many who would be outraged by such behavior in anyone else seem to have little problem with it in this president as long as they get what they want.

A good friend told me last year that one of her goals in life is to take care of herself so she will live to see decency and democratic norms restored when this presidency finally ends. I have joined her in that goal!

Finally, my challenge to myself on my 70th birthday: I want to increase my ability to focus on the good things – my family, the daily aspects of life that I enjoy, and my primary commitment to the kingdom of God rather than any earthly kingdom or political party – instead of on the chaos of the current political scene. Even while I long for this “national nightmare” to be over, I want to keep doing the right thing and, as I wrote before, “to speak truth with words that give grace. Whatever awfulness is happening in politics, I want to live by the Christian values that have guided my whole life, even when it is really hard. I’m also reaffirming the three wishes I wrote for my birthday in 2016 (the ability to “be still and know that I am God,” a sharp mind, and an attitude of gratitude) and in 2017 (a fair U. S. political system, a world where my grandchildren can survive and thrive, and the ability to age well).

Returning to Psalm 90: I want to cultivate that “heart of wisdom” that should come with age – another good reason to live!