Monday, July 2, 2018

The bad news first

       We just returned from two weeks of vacation, during which we drove up to Canada, spent a week there and then drove back along the coast.  We saw a lot, met some wonderful people, had good family time, and returned exhausted but full of our adventures.  I will write more about all we saw and did at a later time.  But today I want to start by writing about some of the negative, and some of the harder things I'm taking from this vacation.
       We experienced quite a bit of stupid on this trip. At one point we had stopped on the Oregon Coast at a vista site off the highway: a very high cliff looking over the ocean.  We were separated from the cliff by a small stone wall, with clear signs written all over it, "Danger!  Erosive area.  Do NOT go beyond wall."  But, despite the postings, and the obvious danger of a cliff that dropped straight down, there were people on the other side of the wall.  One boy, probably around 13 years of age, was actually sitting on the cliff, feet dangling between two large boulders under which there appeared to be nothing but air.  I freaked out.  My father yelled at the boy to not be stupid, which finally roused him to back up a little.  His parents eventually noticed him and read him the riot act.  After seeing that the boy's parents were trying to get him off the cliff, as well as my dad, I tried to get my own kids back in the car.  I didn't know why the boy was acting like this, but I didn't want my kids to see this kid fall to his death. I didn't think they needed that image forever plastered on their minds.  I get the thrill of risk-taking.  But there is a line...
      Two days ago we were driving in Oregon on Hwy 101.  Hwy 101 is very curvy in places, lots of blind corners, but still a highway with 55mph speed limits for much of the road.  We were driving on a section that was three lanes wide: two lanes going South (where we were driving) and one lane heading North.  The road was divided by a clear double yellow line.  I was driving in the left of the two lanes heading South because there was a car in the right-most lane that was going about 50 mph and I wanted to drive closer to the posted 55 limit.  We came to a blind curve and as I turned, I saw an oversized pick-up in my lane, going North and heading straight for me.  Fortunately, I was not yet next to the car I was trying to pass, so I very quickly swerved into the right lane, so quickly that I over-corrected and had to swerve back a little to stay on the road.  There wasn't time to honk, and my father, who had been driving behind me, also nearly missed the guy but was able to swerve back into the right lane.  My father was able to honk, which "woke" the guy up who then went back into his correct lane.  I missed the truck by only a foot or so.  It was close enough that I had to pull off the road because I was shaking so hard at this near head-on collision.  I don't know why he was driving in the wrong lane.  Playing chicken?  Drunk?  Sleeping?  Whatever the reason, that "stupid" nearly got all of us killed.  All of us.  Killed.
       We also experienced meanness on this trip.  We spent one night in a small harbor town in Canada.  David and I walked down early in the morning to try to find a place for the seven of us to get breakfast.  We walked into the only open café at that time and saw that there were about 4 people standing in a line at the register.  Next to this line was a display case with pastries and other food items showing what they had for sale.  So David and I walked over to the display case to see what was available, and if there were foods that all of us could eat (my mother is a diabetic, my daughter is a vegetarian, my son has sensory integration disorder and doesn't eat very many foods).  We walked up to the case when this very tall (at least 6'4") man shouted at us, "Hey!  There's a line you know!"  I turned around simply astonished.  "We were just looking to see what the café has" I said.  To which he shouted, "Well I can't see around you!" after which he ordered his food from the cashier, clearly not needing to "see around me," though I found it astonishing to think this huge person could not see around me, even if he had "needed" to.
          Later that day, after a lot of driving and museum hopping, all seven of us tried to find a place to eat.  The first place we went was closed (no notice on the web-site about it, but it was closed).  The second place was hard to find.  The third place looked a little pricey, but by this time we were all just really, really hungry.  (Did I mention my mother is a diabetic?  Not smart to go too long without eating.)  We stepped inside and told the host that there were seven of us.  He took one look at us and said, "well, we are going to have to move some tables together, so it will be a half hour wait."  I could see a number of empty tables behind him, so I said, "well, we can split into two groups.  Each group can pay for the people at their own table.  Therefore it's like two different groups.  Can we be seated faster that way?"  "I'll have to ask my manager," he nonsensically replied.  I tried to explain again.  "We would be just two small groups.  I see there is room.  Can we be seated sooner if we come in just as two smaller groups: one of three and one of four?"  "I'll have to ask my manager," he said, looking me up and down in a way that made it very clear that he didn't want to seat us because we didn't look fancy enough.  We were dressed casually, as in tourist mode.
        Still later that same day, at a hotel back in the US now, we were in an elevator when we were joined by a transgender couple.  They were talking really loudly about how all Christians are horrible.  It took me a minute to realize I was wearing my "Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church" shirt.  I understand why they would feel that way.  But just as they do not like assumptions to be made about who they are based on their orientation or gender, I would hope they would practice this same policy and not make assumptions about what all "Christians" think and believe.  We got off the elevator and I was talking to my dad about logistics of our trip when I looked up and saw another woman giving me the most hateful glare I have ever, ever seen.  This time it was not shirt related as I had my sweatshirt on.  I don't know why she was looking at me that way.  I have no idea at all what possessed her to be so angry in my direction.  I tried to smile, and the fury and hate just deepened on her face.
       We experienced the pain of people on this trip:  We saw a number of "tent cities" in Canada.  And while I was glad that the dispossessed and homeless had places where they were able to set up their tents without legal harassment or worse, the sheer number of people in these tent cities was astonishing.  I was struck again and again with the cruelty of the fact that people do not care for or about other people.  We are okay with people being this poor.  We do nothing about cities that have no clean water.  We allow children to be taken from their parents.  We send people who are threatened with violence or extreme conditions at home, back to those horrible situations.  We don't see one another as connected to us, we don't understand that your poverty is my poverty and your pain is my pain.  We forget that we are interdependent on one another and we fail to treat each other with respect, love and dignity.  We accept unacceptable conditions for others.  We accept it, we make policies that enforce it, and we don't blink an eye at the intense suffering of other people.
       On our trip we went to a number of history and science places because that is what my father, in particular, likes to do.  But at each one of these the lessons were the same.  It started with the fact that we are cruel to each other.  I'll let you in on a secret.  I hate being white.  I hate it.  I hate being part of a group that has wiped out native peoples, enslaved and continues to enslave people of color, takes away the rights of those who do not look like us and then claims we are the ones being threatened.  I am sorry about the attitudes and destructive behaviors of my ancestors and people who look like me.  I am sorry for my own privilege and the ways in which I have it and use it without even being aware.  I read again and again about the destruction of this tribe, that tribe, this group of folk and that group of people, and it is my people who did this: people who look like me.  I have the rights and privileges I have because of what my people have done to others.  All I have has been earned off the backs of people who have not been given opportunities and have had their resources taken away from them at some point in time.  It breaks my heart.
      And then it went deeper.  Because we don't just destroy other people.  Every science center and museum we went to talked about the destruction of the environment.  We destroy long term growth forests.  We destroy species.  We take up their natural habitats and make it impossible for them to live.  We are causing the environmental destruction not only of the water, of the air, of the forests, but also of our weather systems.  We are destroying the world not only for ourselves but for every other living thing.  Humans are a virus: we grow beyond what the earth can support, we devour everything in our path and we even destroy our host planet.
      Every story I've shared today is about entitlement.  The boy felt entitled to risk his life on the cliff, the truck driver felt entitled to drive on the wrong side of the road, the man in the café felt entitled to yell at strangers, the host at the restaurant felt entitled to turn us away because he didn't like how we looked, the couple in the elevator felt entitled to judge and criticize every person of a group that has some people who are awful (as does every group), people feel entitled to have nice houses while others are homeless, white people have felt entitled to take the land from natives and to take other people as slaves and servants, and all people have felt entitled to using the earth for our own purposes to the point at which we are destroying her and everything on her.  The greed of humanity makes me not only wish I were not white, but frankly, wish I were not human.  I feel helpless to stop this.  But I also feel very clear that none of this is what the Divine, whatever that means to you, wants.  People are not entitled.  We are not entitled.  We are just greedy and selfish.  God does not love us more than the earth, or than other species or than other plants or than other people.  We are called to love all of it: all of the earth, all of each other, ALL.  And our inability to do so will lead to our own destruction.  Given how awful I feel humans are right now, that isn't such a tragedy to me anymore.  What is a tragedy is that we will take the planet with us when we destroy ourselves.
      I know that as a pastor I am supposed to write blogs that encourage, that support, that tell the Good News.  And I know there is Good News out there... there are people who care, there are people who are fighting and standing up for the earth, for other people, especially the poor, disenfranchised, oppressed and marginalized.  There are changes being made, although slowly. God loves all of us, and wants the best for us, even when we mess up. There is Good News.  But I will tell you the truth, I don't always feel hopeful, and it is hard to share Good News when I worry that perhaps those working for change are too few and too late. Many of us who really care feel impotent to help, to make real change. I come back from this vacation not only sad about being white, but sad about being human.  And that is real.  It may not be comfortable to hear, but it is real.
       I post this because I believe we have to start from truth.  Going forward with a Pollyannaish attitude will not help us.  We have to start with the reality of who we are as a people, as a species.  We have to start there in order to move forward with wisdom and hope.  So I speak my truth today.
         Our vacation was a good one.  But perhaps not in the way that I had hoped or intended.  It sobered me up, even more than the last year and a half have done, to the reality of who we are.  I turn over this truth to God and ask for guidance through it all.