“Not willing to get this wrong"
This morning Reince Priebus defended the president’s order to bar immigration from seven targeted countries. Priebus said, more than once and on at least one other news show, that the president "is not willing to get this wrong.” Which offers another insight to the president’s way of thinking. Apparently he can decide not to be wrong. As he can decide what’s true and what’s terrible. Consequences be damned.
What head of state would slam the door on the world’s most desperate refugees out of a misguided fear of their religion and “prioritize” Christians from the same countries on the very day he signs a declaration remembering the Holocaust without naming its primary victims -- the Jews? Maybe Trump is like Moses, and not in a good way: arrogant, deaf and desperate to give the people what they want even when it leads to their own destruction. "Anyone thirsty? Here, let me strike this rock with my staff."
annual Right to Life march in Washington, D.C., is getting lots of press this time around. Partly because of its proximity to last weekend’s Women’s March but also because the new vice president spoke at the rally, the first administration member to do so for a long time. News reporters interviewed participants who are excited that a Republican-led government will curb or eliminate abortion altogether.
I am a Catholic, and I am not excited. I’m concerned for these reasons:
I am not generally in favor of abortion. I have never had one, hope that I wouldn’t have chosen to and pray that neither of my children ever choose that option. BUT . . .
I know that women will find themselves in circumstances where they will choose to have an abortion, and that many of them will do so even if the procedure is against the law.
If abortion is illegal, getting one will become expensive and dangerous and many women will suffer those consequences.
The United States is not a Catholic or a Christian country and, while many Catholics and Christians are opposed to abortion, we cannot impose our religious beliefs on our fellow Americans.
Abortion is on the decline, perhaps because women are using birth control and/or are giving their babies up for adoption or finding ways to raise them themselves. I believe in supporting women on all three fronts, both privately and with governmental assistance.
Finally, I believe that life is sacred -- all life -- not just the unborn. Right to Life marches that emphasize only abortion grate on my faith. I believe we Catholics -- and Christians -- should embrace Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s principle of the “seamless garment” and be opposed to capital punishment, militarism, poverty, greed, xenophobia and every all-too-human impulse that degrades and diminishes human life.
A mistake to invoke Moses
I read today about Republicans who are pleased with Donald Trump’s first week in the White House. One oft-repeated quotation has been irritating me.
“It’s like being actually led into the Promised Land by Moses,” Rep. Tom Cole, a senior Republican from Oklahoma, said of Trump. “We’re there and he’s our leader and people feel very comfortable.”
I’ve been working a biblical text from Numbers, where Moses learns that he will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because he did not obey God. Moses continued to lead the Israelites as their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness came to an end. But when the land of milk and honey was within sight, Moses chose Joshua to take his place and then died alone in the desert. So, maybe not the best biblical example for Cole to use.
Two different marches
For years I was a newspaper reporter. We covered marches, we did not march in them. It’s taken me a while to realize that I don’t have to keep up the pretense of being objective anymore. So on Saturday, I joined a group of neighborhood women who caught a city bus to take part in the Portland Women's March. It was comforting and exhilarating to see so many women, men and children, of all ages and from many different backgrounds, united to promote and protect basic human rights. There were drums, singing, chanting and one-on-one conversations with women I knew and those I’d never met and will probably never see again. Our group walked home from the bus stop hours later, soaked to the skin (yes, it was raining in Portland) but encouraged ever so slightly. At least hope glimmered over the horizon of worry that has consumed me since the election.
Then on Sunday, I boarded the same bus, again with a group of neighborhood women I mostly didn’t know, to take part in a different march. An informal interfaith group had organized a silent march and vigil, a visual reminder of the Beloved Community so dear to the heart of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This silent march drew only 200 people, much smaller than the 70,000 to 100,000 who turned out for the Women’s March. But as we walked the mile from Congregation Beth Israel to downtown’s Pioneer Courthouse Square, we did not speak at all. For some of us it was a walking meditation. In the beginning I was trying to focus on each part of my foot striking the ground and feeling connected to the earth below me. Further along, I saw the stores and businesses we passed, the stadium and the transit center, the people who stopped to look at all of us carrying our battery-powered votive candles. At dusk, we settled in the square. Sitting on brick steps, some of us prayed, some of us meditated, some of us sat with our thoughts. There was power in our silence, in the unity that we were able to sustain without speaking to each other. If Saturday’s march was a tidal wave of support, Sunday’s was a quiet but steady current. Both move boats.
Savoring the process (for now)
Starting work this week on another book. I love this early part of the process: brainstorming ideas; checking my own book shelves for basic references; the first trip to a university library; checking out an armload of books; taking notes on 4 X 6 inch note cards (Yes, I still use note cards.); keeping running lists of questions, sources and ideas. These early days seem so productive to me. Research hasn’t given way to writing yet. Of course, I am just making notes on what other people have said. But I love the soft scratch of my pencil against paper, the smooth glide of my pen across card stock. This all reminds me of the Four Noble Truths for writers, from Gail Sher’s book, One Continuous Mistake:
It's the magi who are models
Today many Christians celebrate Epiphany, a day that remembers the magi, or wise men, who sought out the infant Jesus. The story is part of Matthew’s Gospel. In the minds of many believers, this date marks the end of the Christmas holidays. For me, it began a serious reflection on the role of strangers in the Bible. On this day in 2015, I began writing a manuscript that I eventually called Sacred Strangers. Whether it will bear that title or not, my book will be published in the fall. Here’s a brief sample.
In Matthew’s Christmas story, the magi are strangers, who come to Jerusalem as they search for a newborn infant. The Jewish King Herod, his advisors and the people of Jerusalem are the believers in this story -- or they should be. But the wise men, the strangers, are the heroes in this tale, the ones whose behavior should influence us all.
The magi are the first outsiders in the Bible who search for Jesus, the first to, literally, lay eyes on him. It is their first glimpse that opens our eyes to the son of God. They model integrity, humility, determination and courage. The believers in the story model ignorance, fear, suspicion, arrogance, laziness and even violence.
As a modern day Christian, which side would you rather be on?
Says, believes, tweets
Sometime in my early years as a journalist, I learned about the difference between thinking, believing and saying. I don’t remember whether it was an editor or something that I read, but the best attribution a journalist could use was “say” or “said.” Other words implied something more -- insight to a person’s thought process, decisions based on evidence or matters of faith that, in the absence of evidence, called for belief.
As a religion writer, I started to use the word believe more often because it implied faith and meant something to other believers. I had my share of arguments with editors, but over time, they let me get away with it when the circumstances seemed to warrant it.
Today as I read again about the president-elect’s rejection of the idea that Russians hacked into American computers during the last election, I consider all the words at a writer’s disposal. Trump "thinks" the Russians aren’t involved. Maybe he thinks that -- he hasn’t had a briefing from intelligence leaders. And no one really knows how or what he really thinks. Or maybe for him it is an article of faith that calls for a leap he can’t explain. Maybe he believes it.
That worries me. Faith can’t be proven, by definition. But beliefs are not without any evidence at all. Many believers, questioned about their faith, can point to scripture, theology, philosophy, history, archaeology, something that supports their belief. So far, the president-elect hasn’t done that. I wish more reporters would stick with says or said or, in this case, tweeted. None of which imply proof, evidence, truth or even of thinking.
It’s a cold and clear day. I sit in the living room to read and glance up at the Christmas tree. I haven’t taken the time today to turn on the lights. I notice golden light from the window striking the tree on one side. The ornaments gleam in the natural light. It’s beautiful.
But I notice that the sunlight is not reflected in the dozens of crystal icicles that I bought this year and scattered throughout the tree with just this sort of morning in mind. Almost immediately, I imagine how to rearrange the ornaments to take advantage of the light. Stop.
Sometimes our careful plans don’t catch the light. But that doesn’t necessarily diminish the beauty around us. And, in the time it took me to write this, the sunlight has moved on. Enjoy beauty whenever it breaks through, I tell myself. Don’t waste time figuring out how to enhance it or even to make it last.
This morning, I spent an hour and a large cup of coffee finishing up the jigsaw puzzle that my daughters-in-law had begun on Christmas Day. It was a doozy. A New Yorker magazine cover from 1942, a woman riding a bicycle carrying a Christmas tree. The pieces were small, in unusual shapes. I’ve worked away at it since Christmas evening.
This morning I got down to one last piece and groaned because my last puzzle (of VanGogh’s “Sunflowers”) will never be finished. One last piece had disappeared (I blame the vacuum) in the months’ long process. Today,I looked for the piece, the last one in the Christmas tree carried on the bike. I got on my hands and knees to look under the sofa, stared down at the Oriental rug. The third time I checked under the coffee table, I saw the piece. Upside down, it was hiding in plain sight on the carpet design. I snapped the piece into place and beat a tattoo on the wooden table. “It’s finished,” I told my cat, who promptly settled herself on this new cardboard mattress I'd provided. And that is when realization dawned on me.
A puzzle can be finished. It takes time, what my husband used to call perseverance, and sometimes the help of other people, But with or without missing pieces, there is a time to declare a jigsaw finished. So much of life is never done. When a news story is published there’s often a reaction to write, or another fact turns up that shifts the writer’s understanding. When the laundry’s done, I shed the clothes I wore all day and pull out clean ones. I unload the dishwasher and immediately begin to refill it. So little of my life is ever finished. Maybe that’s the longing that a jigsaw puzzle can fulfill.
A new year of challenges
A new year. The year of my book. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Writing is what I do when I feel inspired, or flustered and need a to-do list to just to make it through the day. After decades of religion writing and three of retirement, I wrote a manuscript that will be published this fall and, I hope, will be read by people of good will who are open to the idea that strangers have a lot to teach the rest of us. More on that later.
Today, my resolution was smaller. I promised myself that this would be a year of knitting challenges. I have been knitting since grade-school, but always shied away from any stitch or method that seemed too difficult. I’d spent New Year’s Eve trying to master a special cast-on required to knit a mobius scarf -- a continuous, half-twisted loop. I vaguely remember the concept of a mobius circle from school and the photos on Ravelry looked cool. I watched and rewatched a YouTube video on the technique, but I couldn’t get the progression of stitches right. When I did, my circular needle was too short to knit the first row. I gave up amidst a self-scolding about how I never follow through on my New Year’s resolutions.
But I woke up this morning, googled my neighborhood yarn shop to find it open and recruited a neighbor to walk with me. I needed the outing -- too much sitting since Christmas. The air was fresh, parts of the sky were bright blue and others dark gray. Meg and I caught up on each others’ lives. When I got home, I sat down with my YouTube tutorial and tried it again with my new, longer needles. With my head cleared out after that walk, I figured out a rhythm to the stitches, remembered the right direction for the yarn over. Before I knew it, I had enough stitches to knit the scarf I had in mind. I think it’s going to work out well. A new knitting stitch to start the year.
Which is a roundabout way to say that I aim to tackle my other New Year’s resolutions with similar determination. One of them is this blog. My effort to pave the way for a book that lived in my head for twenty years, on paper for two and now rests with a publisher. I resolve to do everything I can to get those ideas into as many readers' hands as I can. I believe in this book.