The Spirituality of Wonder Woman in the age of Trump

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I was obviously not the only person anxiously awaiting the new Wonder Woman movie this past weekend. The long anticipated movie has been record breaking in numerous ways, but as I sat in the darkened theater with my teenage daughter, I could only think that the current state of political and societal affairs led to an even greater positive response to this female centered movie.

Diana is an Amazon, shielded from the world until a WWI soldier appears, and she decides to leave her home forever so she can protect the millions of innocents losing their lives. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, gives these parting words, “Those men don’t deserve you.” Diana quickly finds herself in London, a city representative of a world where women are constrained by politics, society, and even fashion. She is thrown out of a room where the white men in power make decisions that impact the world, a woman who is only seen as distractingly pretty with a limited mental capacity for the big decisions of the world. The visual of Diana circling a room of men in power is far too similar 100 years later to the real images which have emerged from Trump’s White House of white men making decisions which directly impact countless people not represented in that space.

Diana’s strength and power are amazing and awe-inspiring. Yet, what truly makes this movie so good is her heart. We see it breaking when she witnesses women and children living in terrible conditions, being enslaved, and dying due to the war raging around them. Again, modern images burst through my internal vision as I placed the fictional faces side by side the real children from Syria and Mosul. The climactic scene of the movie is a battle with Ares, the God of War. As he tries to convince Diana that humans have chosen the atrocities, he echoes the words of her mother about what people deserve for the decisions. She responds, “It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.”

The age of Trump is about believing that those in power deserve that power. They deserve the money, the finer things of life, the best health care, the autonomy to believe that no circumstances of birth or assistance from countless people along the way led them to their place in life. It is the false ideology of the Christian prosperity gospel – that we get the rewards in life we truly deserve.

Diana, as Wonder Woman, is a hero we need today. She knows people do not always get what they deserve, and innocents suffer daily for the hubris and narcissism of the men (and I intentionally use this word) in power. The movie concludes with her in the current day, declaring that she stays and fights for love. She loves humanity and works towards a better day.

In a society where women are gravely underrepresented politically, where women and people of color and children suffer disproportionately, where the President sows seeds of fear and lies – we need a beacon of hope and love. Wonder Woman is fictional, but director Patty Jenkins is not. And sometimes our greatest truths can be inspired by mythical stories. Women and men, and people of all colors, can partner together to create a world where everyone has a seat at the table. We can rid ourselves of the language of who might deserve this or who might deserve that, and know that love means everyone deserves a better life. This is the spirituality we need in today’s world.

Don’t put me on a pedestal…

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“I just love women. I put them on a pedestal.” A well-known author spoke those words to me the other night. We were at a social gathering, and I found myself the only woman in a circle of men. The author is someone who has presented insightful information about egalitarianism and the prominent role women have in creation, theology, and mythology. His writings and teachings are ones I appreciate. Yet, given the current status of women in this country, those words rankled.

“Women don’t want to be placed on a pedestal! They want to be equal partners!” Our discussion continued until it took a different direction, but the image of a pedestal remained with me. While we have a President who only wants women under him (literally and figuratively), we have a Vice-President who wants to place women on a pedestal. I am not surprised by the recent news highlighting Mike Pence’s refusal to dine or work with a woman without a man present, including business functions. (As a woman in the male dominated field of ministry, I would be essentially isolated if I followed such a rule in regards to my male colleagues.) Anyone who followed the election process should well comprehend his view of a “Christian theocracy,” a place presided over by very conservative men who have a narrow understanding of the Bible and Christian faith, and wish to impose this legally on the rest of the nation. It is this view that propagates placing women on a pedestal – supposedly raising them up to a place where they are honored, adored, and treasured.  People who follow this viewpoint use specific passages from the Bible to support their ideas, namely Proverbs 31. They claim it’s the greatest way to respect a woman.

Yet, when one is placed on a pedestal, it’s too easy to be knocked off. A woman is either the saint, residing just out of reach of ordinary mortals – or she is the whore, the fallen woman who tempts good men and leads them to destruction.

This idea of placing a woman on a pedestal took root in the early 1800s in the American South. It coincided with the view that a “real man” was a tough guy, aggressive, competitive, and master of all he surveyed. This included not just his land, wife, and children, but also his slaves. Placing women on a pedestal was a way to keep them caged so that a man could maintain control and power.

I don’t want to be on a pedestal. I want to be an equal with men, whether it is in personal or business relationships. Neither of the two men who are representing us in Washington have any concept what that means. While it’s more obvious in the President’s case, it is perhaps more dangerous in the case of the Vice-President. Claiming to honor and protect women (and supposedly his own virtue) is code for saying he doesn’t really trust them, and he certainly can’t trust himself. People who are not on the same level can never truly be equals. A pedestal is simply a jail.

The Essence of the Labyrinth

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On an overcast Sunday afternoon, filled with sporadically spitting rain, a friend and I explored a private labyrinth which was created from a metaphysical perspective. Labyrinths speak to me, as they have for countless people for numerous centuries. As to why, I normally can only answer with a favorite response from Divinity School – “It’s a mystery.” (And yes, that was a typical response when we had absolutely no idea as to the answer.)

Labyrinths aren’t a maze – they have a set path towards the center, and back out again. Normally circular in nature, these pre-Christian structures symbolize the universe, the womb, the heart of life. Christians co-opted these paths during the Medieval period in Europe, and recent years have seen a resurgence in interest, from both Christians and non-Christians alike. The primary manner of walking a labyrinth is to let go of whatever weighs on us as we journey to the center. The time in the core is one of illumination, and then the journey outward is one of union with the Divine or whatever guiding power is present in one’s life.

But really – one can walk, dance, skip, or crawl a labyrinth any way one pleases. What is important is connecting with the transformative energy. This particular labyrinth was built around the idea of connecting with the earth’s energy. Now, I am certainly not a scientist. When one mentions energy, I normally think “wish I had more,” or “equals mc squared.” But my friend is a scientist, and his thoughts were focused on the definition of energy. He suggested that “essence” might be a better word.

I think he might be right. While the power of walking a labyrinth is a mystical mystery, I know that I am connected with essence when I engage my body, heart, and mind with such a journey. It might be the essence of the Divine. It might be my own essence. It definitely incorporates the essence of creation and nature. And even though it is a solitary walk, it connects me with the essence of others, like my friend on the same path, or friends who have walked other labyrinths on other days.

The labyrinth certainly reflects our life journeys. We wander, weave, stumble, fall, run, and just when it seems like we won’t ever find our way – we have arrived in the heart of the walk. We touch base with the core of our lives, our essence, and then continue once again to place one foot in front of the other as the sojourn moves forward. And each time we connect with the essence, a new understanding is revealed to us, and empowers us to continue our pilgrimage. We might never comprehend the meaning of life, but a glimmer of this essence can guide us quite some way until the next glimmer reveals itself.

 

 

The road to Hurt

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I have driven along Highway 29 in the heart of Virginia several times in recent years, but somehow that exit sign to a place named “Hurt” had eluded me. As I drove past in recent days, I tried to remember the circumstances of the times I would have driven by previously. The last time had been with a good friend and co-worker, and she and I were probably talking energetically. Before that, I had been in a van with my parents and family, so it makes sense that I would have missed the road sign. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if it were my state of mind, and not the fact of being by myself in the car, that allowed me to see and remember the exit clearly.

I was in the process of contemplating what it was like to be hurt when the sign suddenly loomed before me. I don’t mean physically hurt, but emotionally. As a college chaplain, I work with students continually who are hurting and in pain from what life has to offer. We all wish to avoid hurt, and I was wondering how I might do that myself, but it was a fruitless line of thought. Life would offer more hurt, and pain, and grief, and I would once again have to figure out how to meet it.

And I will, when it comes, and it inevitably will.

It doesn’t mean I will like it, or that I will calmly believe this is a part of life and look for the good that can always come out of our hurt. I will cry, have a drink, talk to my closest friends, watch a couple bad movies – and then put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

I will say that the past few decades have given me more perspective on how to encounter Hurt. I vividly recall my mother stating – in the midst of my junior high pain – that the best laid plans of mice and men are often gone awry. (A phrase adapted from the beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns, and incorporated in the novel Of Mice and Men written by one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck.) That didn’t keep me from trying to make plans to avoid hurt. If anything, it intensified my desire to arrange my life so that it would be the best life imaginable. I had already known great pain in the loss of my grandfather when I was age 10, a man who was essentially my spiritual father. Even while there were some things I knew I couldn’t avoid, I was ready to tackle life head on. I refused to make a pit stop in Hurt – I would barrel right past that exit as fast as I could.

But the best laid plans…

I have had great joy in life, especially with my children, my dear friends, my parents, and my vocation. Yet, there have also been many days when the hurt was so much that it physically made me ill, and close friends had to prop me up so I could go through the motions of life. Sometimes life had forced me off that exit, and sometimes I drove myself there.

One thing I have learned is that no one has to stay in Hurt permanently. It’s a stopping place. Sometimes the visit is longer than we would want, but we need to turn the key in the ignition and take the unknown path to a different town. It might be Joy, Peace, Fun, or just Good Enough. But that stay in Hurt will help us appreciate the next town all the more. No one ever wants to stay in Hurt (of if they do, then they really need to work with a good therapist), but good can always come out of the visit – even if it takes days or weeks of more driving.

Someone Else’s Baby

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One incident from my daughter’s childhood has stood out in my mind the past few days. I often took my children to parks and play areas. While my son was in kindergarten, I took my daughter to a nearby playground, and let her dig in the sandbox while I sat a couple feet away from her on the edge of the box. Other moms and children came and went, when one mom approached the area, and began to exclaim, “Where is this baby’s mother?” I gave her a confused look, because I was closer to my daughter physically than any other mom, and then responded “Right here beside her.” She looked surprised, muttered, “Oh,” and then went to another area of the park with her child in tow.

I immediately understood the issue. I am a blondish Caucasian, and my daughter is a petite Asian. It was just the first of many times people have assumed we could have no relationship because of our appearance and races. Ava was adopted from China as a baby, so naturally we do not favor each other. I always knew I wanted to adopt internationally and cross-racially. I took on this dream when I was in junior high. The dream originated with the understanding from the Bible that every single person is a child of God, and deserves to be loved and wanted. I knew there were lots of children in the world who needed homes, and I wanted to provide those. How that child looked was a non-issue. And if my dreams had really continued, I would have adopted many more from around the world. (I keep trying not to envy Angelina Jolie for being able to do just that.)

Yet, the world continues to be filled with people who think their “own” children are of more value than other children. The devastating refugee crisis in Syria is a perfect example. We turn our eyes, and try to wash the blood from our hands, ignoring the innocents who are living in pure hell, while spouting invalid information about protecting ourselves. We have elected officials who claim we have to have our “own babies” for a civilization to grow and thrive, and refuse to acknowledge the many cultures and skin colors which make up “America,” instead wanted to create a culture of exclusion. We live in a world where stats bear up the belief held by many that white children matter more than non-white children. We have a government keen to exclude millions of more children from health care and programs to help those in poverty, while beefing up the already largest military budget in the world.

Every baby is our baby. I come at that from a deep-seeded spiritual belief, grounded in the message displayed throughout the Bible. We are responsible for the children of the world. Even if someone does not agree with this theological statement, it is simple common sense to care for the children of our society and our world. We cannot completely remove ourselves from others. We are interconnected in more ways we can image – whether economically, socially, or scientifically. Labeling a baby as “someone else’s” is like saying our foot or hand does not belong to us.

We are all one body. Each child is our own. We are all in this together.

 

 

A Post-election Christmas Message

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traditional Moravian beeswax candles, trimmed for Christmas

Below is the message I gave at our college Christmas Candlelight service last week.

Faith communities across North Carolina this weekend are coming together for a special focus in worship services. The North Carolina Council of Churches, working with other non-Christian faith communities, are focusing on this one theme – Love One Another. Every major religion in the world has at its heart the message that we should treat each other the way we want to be treated. So the idea of loving one another comes naturally from this foundational message.

Love one another.

What better way to share the Christmas story than to talk about loving one another? This message is especially critical for us in our society today. Our country is greatly divided. Hate incidents and crimes have spiked dramatically in recent weeks, occurring to people I know personally, and people who sit in this congregation. What is supposed to be a time of great joy with the Holiday season, is instead for many a time of pain, anger, anxiety, and sadness due to the hate-filled division dominating our culture.

Jesus, the baby whose birth we honor today, was born into a time and place of violence, and a society filled with religious and racial and cultural divisions. Born into poverty to two very unimportant people, his family soon fled as refugees to escape the genocide of male children by an unstable ruler.

Yet, in spite of the danger and uncertainty of his time, Jesus brought together people across lines of division from the very beginning. One of our scriptures today tells of a time when the wolf will live peacefully with the lamb. This is a sign which indicates that the light of God’s kingdom is breaking through on earth.

At Jesus’ birth, this Jewish baby had shepherds who visited – men who were on the fringes of society and living out in the fields with the sheep. The average person didn’t want to associate with a smelly shepherd who couldn’t find a better way to make a living.

At Jesus’ birth, the Magi from Persia came with gifts of great monetary value. These non-Jewish leaders, men of great wealth and power in their homeland, gathered with the castaways from society to honor a baby born into poverty in a stable.

At Jesus’ birth, animals were present, welcoming the child into their home in the stable, and signifying that all God’s creation is meant to be united in love and community – the poor, the outcasts, the wealthy, Jew and non-Jew alike, the most vulnerable of creation.

It was certainly a feast of Love at the first Christmas.

What does this mean for us today? When we focus on loving one another, I am absolutely not saying – Just be nice to each other. That is superficial and meaningless. It reminds me of that phrase I often heard growing up in the South, “Bless her heart.” Now it sounds innocuous on the surface, but my mom always said people really meant, “Bless her pointed little head.” – It meant being nice to someone’s face, but disdaining who she truly is. It placed the person as “the other,” separated from ourselves where we lived in a place of privilege and power.

Truly loving one another is not just “being nice.”

Love is the most wonderful and life-giving thing in this world – but we all know that what means the most in this world are the things for which we have to work the hardest.

Something I appreciate about working in the heart of Salem is the Moravian Motto – “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”

This doesn’t mean we gloss over injustice or try to “be nice” – it means we do our dead level best to find ways to respect, engage, and encounter the other person as a child of God. There is not one person on earth with whom we will agree 100%, and sometimes we will find our disagreements are so big that relating to the other person seems impossible. Liberty in non-essentials can be a major challenge. And if we don’t agree on what is an essential or non-essential, it becomes even more difficult. There are no easy answers in trying to figure out how to engage and be in community across what feels like as essential to us. It takes commitment to that relationship with the other person. It takes patience. It takes grace.

This is not easy, but we are always meant to reach out in love – no matter how the other person responds. Loving another can be tough – parents knows we have to provide tough love on occasion for our children. There are times we have to speak words of truth and justice, which the other person may not want to hear. And Love doesn’t mean we always like the other person. Love takes a whole lot of hard work. It takes a generosity of spirit in being in community with that person, trying to understand that person’s point of view. And the more abhorrent or foreign that view seems, the more important to respect them and remain in community together.

Now in the end, love is all we really have, isn’t it? There is far too much hate in the world today – hate which will consume each one of us if we let it. There are far too many people spewing words of division at each other. There are far too many loud voices not respecting the humanity in others.

Love is all we really have, isn’t it? Jesus was love – his life was about loving others – each and every person – and it threatened the establishment so much that the people in power decided to execute him. But that didn’t stop his love. And it didn’t stop millions of people over the centuries being inspired by his example and reaching out in love to others, no matter the consequences. And not just Christians. People of other faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and others – see him as a great teacher with a prophetic message who has shown us a better way to live.

So I say to you today – go forth and love each other. It’s often not easy. And when it’s not easy – that’s when it is the most important. It will be the most challenging and difficult thing we do in our lives. But it will definitely be the thing that makes us the most fully human, and that makes us most filled with the Divine.

It will be that which makes life worthwhile.

Go forth and love.

 

 

The day “Christian America” died…

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November 8, 2016. Church historians will teach about this date in future years. Scholars will explore how the 50 year decline of mainline Christianity had the coffin slammed shut on that day. This is a clear and obvious demarcation of one era to the next. As with any big changes in society or institutions, the writing had been on the wall with the slow slide towards death. A serious episode of illness took place with the advent of the “Moral Majority,” but the movement of evangelicals for Trump was the final death blow.

Now I would argue that America has never been a “Christian” nation as some have claimed. The “founding fathers” were all Deist, believing that Jesus was not divine and that God simply set creation into motion and never intervened. While the Puritans pontificated about this new land being a city on a hill and a light for all  nations, the Quakers opened their doors for people of all faiths. It was this mentality that won out in the formation of the new country – church and state were separate. And before anyone starts exclaiming about the Pledge of Allegiance (“under God”) and our coinage (“in God we trust”), please know these phrases were added in the 1950s under the watchful eye of Joseph McCarthy.

Yet, those who have often insisted on America being a Christian nation  have been the very ones to vote into office a man who has not only no understanding of Christianity, but also no understanding of basic morality. He bragged of sexual assault and control over women, and dismissed it as something any man would say. He mocked a reporter who is differently abled. He condemned people based upon race, and lumped them together as the worst sort of people (criminals, rapists). He proclaimed a major world religion (and an Abrahamic one which shares beliefs with Christianity) as full of terrorists.

Since his election, incidents against women and people of color have sky-rocketed across the country. My own students are dealing with strangers and hate incidents which could never be misconstrued as Christian. These perfect strangers feel they have the right to act in these hateful and threatening ways, because they are simply following in the footsteps of their President-elect. These are not the footsteps of Jesus.

There were large numbers of Christians who spoke out against the amorality of our future President, including evangelical leaders. I pray they will continue to try and let their voices be heard. We cannot idly sit by and let people of color, women, and non-Christians be treated in this manner.

Yet, even more people will see the fault in Christianity, and believe that a secular humanism is more compassionate, life-giving, and loving. And I cannot fault them. I work every day with young adults, many of whom are not just “nones” (growing up with no religious affiliation), but are also “dones” (done with Christian affiliation after damaging experiences in churches). The many nones and dones I encounter on a regular basis act far more like Jesus than many people who openly proclaim to follow him.

“Christian America” is dead. And I’m fine with that. It doesn’t mean that the Spirit of justice, compassion, truth, kindness, understanding, and love is not flowing throughout our land. It just means that it isn’t to be found in some of the places where people talk about a Christian agenda most loudly.

9/11 and Living with the Bad

For anyone older than perhaps age 30, 15 years ago is a day and time we will never forget. I began the day on a retreat with other United Methodist clergy, glad to be in the beautiful NC mountains and focus on God. So many of us worked far too many hours, with far too many demands, and taking those couple days was necessary for our personal, vocational, and spiritual health. But soon after breakfast, our Bishop called us together. She shared with us the events – as best anyone knew at that early time of the day – and then said she had decided to cancel the retreat so that we could come home and minister to our communities.

I arrived home a little while later, spent some time with my 7 year old son to explain what we knew, and to reassure him that we were safe, and then headed directly to campus. Other campus ministers were there, and we worked all day and through the evening with all the campus staff – listening to the fears and pain of the students, and trying to help those who had not heard from parents or loved ones who had been at the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. I knew I could do much more than listen. I began to contact a variety of faith leaders in the area, especially non-Christian ones. With the assistance of the administration, we had an Interfaith service planned in less than 24 hours. Almost 1000 people gathered in the largest space on the campus of 3000, being comforted by leaders of the major world’s religions. That was the first day I participated in a guided meditation from a Buddhist monk. (And it would not be the last.) Everything about the service was helpful that day, but the meditation put my heart at rest as other things could not.

In the coming weeks, I had hopes that good could come from this terrible tragedy. The Bible states that good can come out whatever happens to us, and I had always believed that. I also knew it wasn’t always easy to find the good, or it might take many years for that wisdom to arrive. Yet, in those weeks, I had hopes that our society would pull together as one in a way we had not done before. As we dealt with the national grief, pain, and anger, I prayed that we could do that as a community – that we could celebrate the differences while being bonded by our similarities. I was part of a team which planned a city-wide Interfaith Service in downtown Asheville in the subsequent weeks, certainly one of the most memorable worship events of my career.

Yet, not all who live with the bad can find the good. Sometimes the bad just turns to hate, anger, and violence. Reports of Islamaphobia, and violent words or actions against Muslims, in our country are higher in the past year than they were after 9/11. 15 years later, and I wonder how we have regressed. How could white supremacy be mainstreamed, and a strain of Christianity preach such hate and division?

It happens when people focus on what separates us, instead of what unites us. It happens when people act based upon fear, instead of hope. It happens when people look for a scapegoat for what is wrong in their own lives. It happens when words of violence are allowed to come more easily, instead of words of compassion.

I truly thought our society would be a kinder, more inclusive, more hopeful place now than it was 15 years ago. If we don’t try to understand what it means to live with the bad, to be thoughtful about those greatly difficult times in life, and to be fully aware of our own motivations and feelings – then the bad consumes us.

I pray this consummation of our society will be transformed. We shouldn’t fight fire with fire – we shouldn’t reject the bad with the bad. We instead offer compassion, kindness, understanding, and love. That’s how we find the good in the midst of the bad.

 

Controlling Muslim Women’s Bodies

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First – a disclaimer. I am not Muslim. I am a born and bred Christian, and was ordained a minister over 25 years ago. Yet, my work as a college minister during most of that time has given me the wonderful opportunity to work with people from a wide variety of faith traditions, including Islam. One of my greatest joys in recent years has been the connection with the growing number of young Muslim women on my campus. Obviously, when things that impact my young students are in the news, I pay attention.

During the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was front and center as the United States processed. I have since learned much more about Ibtihaj Muhammad, a New Jersey native who won the bronze in her sport.

On the Copacabana Beach, headlines were made when one member of the Egyptian beach volleyball team chose to wear a hijab. Her teammate, while also choosing the full body suit, did not cover her head. (Rules were changed 4 years ago to allow players to wear more than the tiny bikini normally seen.)

Muslim women’s bodies were once again in the news, when the mayor of Cannes banned the wearing of the so-called “burkini,” a full body swimsuit with a head covering, citing it as a symbol of religious extremism.

It seems that Muslim’s women’s bodies are not their own, but instead the battlefield for issues concerning religious diversity, extremism, terrorism, and even feminism. Is it sexist to cover one’s hair and body? When  Kim Kardasian claims that nude selfies are empowering for women, how does a Muslim woman live in the same society? (And I’ll leave it to you to decide if Kardasian tweets these pics due to body confidence or exhibitionism – or a mixture of both motivations.)

I know Muslim women who wear a hijab, and others who only wear one when they go to the mosque. I know Muslim women who wear sleeveless shirts and short dresses, and others who always have arms and legs covered. Not one of them has been forced by a male relative to do any of these things. (And yes, I am well aware that there are women who are forced to adhere to extreme dress codes – I protested the US Government backing the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1991 because of how the Taliban treated women.) My point is that there are Muslim women who choose to dress with certain standards, and people need to get over it. One of my dear Muslim students explained to me why she chose to start wearing a hijab when she was 12. “It’s a symbol that I am what’s important – not my hair or my body. People see my face, the essence of who I am.”

I was envious when I heard her explain her decision. As a child of the 80s, I have spent far too much time and money on my hair over the years. As a professional woman, I have again spent far too much time and money trying to choose appropriate, but attractive (and yes, sometimes sexy), clothing that makes the statement I want to make. And what is that statement? I’m a professional – I look younger than I am – I’m sporty – I’m fashionable – I’m desirable?

I believe it’s rare for any woman in our society – Muslim or not – to be able to separate what she truly wants in her own choice of dress or what is culturally expected. I know I can’t completely do that. I do know this – we need to find something else to worry about in this world other than Muslim women choosing certain clothing to express their faith. Let’s take on hunger, kidnapped girls in Africa, gun violence, racism, homophobia. Leave Muslim women and their bodies alone.

 

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

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The Delaware Memorial Bridge over the Delaware River

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” This telling phrase from Blanche DuBois, as embodied by Vivien Leigh, suddenly popped into my head in the middle of a dark night. My tired accent was probably close to the Southern Belle’s as I explained my lack of cash to a perhaps equally tired attendant in a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike. I had been awake for close to 24 hours on my journey home from a lovely and thought-provoking 10 days in Scotland and England. Unfortunately, the last leg of my flight had been cancelled, along with numerous other flights, and it well looked as if it would be two more days before I could walk through my own door. I decided an 9 hour drive would be preferable to a couple days spent in the Newark Airport, waiting to see if I made the standby cut. Rental car steering wheel in hand, I turned onto the Turnpike at 1am, guided by the gps on my cell phone. I had never driven I-95 north of Maryland, but I figured I was capable since I had just been navigating foreign countries. I hurtled into the night, feeling pretty good about my resourcefulness. I blasted the air conditioning and radio, continuing my burst of confidence, until I realized I was singing along with Carrie Underwood “Before he sleeps” instead of the correct words. (The man was a cheater, not sleep-deprived.) The first toll-booth added a couple more holes in the armor of assurance I wore. With only credit cards and British pounds, I counted myself quite lucky the attendant took pity on me and let me use a card to pay at a cash-only booth. I managed to find the $4 fee for the next booth in the various pockets of my backpack, but wasn’t quite sure how I would manage the subsequent stops.

A handful of other cars zoomed around me, but the night was dark and quiet. At least it was until a huge monstrosity loomed before me. “Holy s*%#!” erupted from my mouth, a phrase I do not believe I have ever uttered in my life. (In all honestly, it would be uttered a few more times before I arrived home the following afternoon.) In the shadows, an enormous monolith reached to the heavens, and I couldn’t see a sign anywhere that told me what the heck was going on. I quickly found myself careening over a massive bridge, quite terrified.  (pictured above – but imagine it was really, really dark;  you’re sleep-deprived; and you have an irrational fear of really high bridges) The bridge phobia can be blamed on my family, who decided to have an outing when I was a teen to see the campy horror movie, Happy Birthday to Me. While my family laughed, I was horrified at the lobotomy which took place when a car failed to make a drawbridge.

By the time I navigated what I later realized was the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I needed a break. I found myself at a Comfort Inn just north of Baltimore a little after 3. The night clerk checked me in, providing some basic necessities I lacked. I slept like a rock until 7:30am, when my body decided it was really Sunday afternoon and time to be awake. I went to check out, hair still wet from my shower, and asked the desk clerk how many more tolls were ahead of me, hoping I could come up with a solution to my lack of US cash on a Sunday morning. I rattled on about my adventures since returning to the States, and she marveled that I was able to use a credit card at a toll booth. “I have something in the back that can help,” she added and disappeared through a door. She returned in a moment, holding out a $10 bill. “You only have 2 more booths, and this will cover it.” I protested, but she insisted. (Yes, customer service knows about this stellar employee.)

I made it home safely 7 hours later. I don’t know if it was stress, exhaustion, or just the elongated vowels and blondish hair – but numerous perfect strangers were graciously kind and generous.

And isn’t that what life should be all about? The Hebrew Scriptures have a large focus on Hospitality. In a day and age where life was dangerous and often scary, any decent person would welcome the stranger, providing shelter, food, and protection. It shames me that so many in our bountiful country speak out of fear, not wanting to be in community with those who are perceived as different. We can expect our loved ones to care for us, but it’s the strangers who need our love the most. Thank goodness for that dependence. It’s what makes us truly human, and brings out the best in each one of us.