For the first time since I started this blog nine years ago, I’ve been blocked.
I’ve wanted to show you the beauty of Arles, the season’s first snow, and the photos I shot last month in Florida. But it all seems so trivial compared to the political changes that are unfolding around the world. Deep chasms are fracturing nations, and a terrible darkness is spilling out of their depths.
The 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. was especially messy and troubling. Both major parties used dirty tricks and slung vitriol — and ultimately my country elected a man who has deliberately pitted Americans against each other and lauded violence.
You people were vicious, violent, screaming, ‘Where’s the wall? We want the wall!’ I mean you were nasty and mean and vicious and you wanted to win, right?
As a pacifist — and as someone who deeply loves her country and its ideals of democracy, liberty, and opportunity — I’ve been disheartened by the divisiveness and hatred. Worse yet, I’ve felt powerless against it.
Last week I was discussing this with my wise friend Tom. “What can one person do?” I asked him. “How can one individual possibly make a positive difference?”
“Do what you can,” he responded.
Those words resonated again last night when I came across this photo.
And then I found Justin Normand’s words.
I’M THE TEXAN WHO HELD THE “YOU BELONG” SIGN IN FRONT OF THE MOSQUE IN IRVING.
I have had the most extraordinary weekend.
Like most everyone I know, I have been in a malaise and at a loss since Election Day. What to do? With myself? With my time? To make things better, or even just to slog through?
I manage a sign shop, and so I’d had the urge for a week or so to do this. Friday, I had a couple of spare hours in the afternoon, so I did.
I made a sign, and I drove to the nearest mosque and stood out on the public sidewalk to share the peace with my neighbors. My marginalized, fearful, decent, targeted, Muslim neighbors.
Someone took a picture and posted it, and as of today it’s been viewed millions of times, and shared across various platforms many hundreds of thousands of times. This is extraordinary and humbling; mainly because what I did isn’t (or shouldn’t be) all that extraordinary.
For me, this wasn’t about expressing agreement; I remain Presbyterian, not Muslim. It wasn’t about demonstrating my outrage to right-wing drivers driving down Esters Road in front of the mosque. I can never, and will never, change any of the haters. It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here.
This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs.
And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.
Find a group marginalized by the haters in this current era we find ourselves in. Then, find a way to express your acceptance to that group in a physically present way, as opposed to a digital one.
I can assure you, from their outpouring of smiles, hugs, tears, hospitality, messages extending God’s love, and a bouquet of flowers, it will mean a lot.
My own religious tradition ascribes these words to my deity:
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.
It is also in this vein that the words on the Statue of Liberty embrace, with eagerness and mercy, all who come to join us:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words bespeak the America we all remember, know, love, and are still called upon to be. Especially now.
Lastly, it worked. I felt better for the impact it had on my neighbors. They genuinely needed this encouragement. They need us.
They need all of us. They need you.
We ARE one America.
This isn’t about partisanship. It isn’t about who won the election. It isn’t even about religion. It’s about who we choose to be, collectively, as a nation.
So on this Christmas Eve, when millions of Christians around the world gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth, may we each remember His teachings of brotherhood, love, and compassion … and may we each do what we can.