Where in the World Wednesday

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Trafalgar Square, London, England; January 21, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day — wear red in support of women striking for equality, and if you’re a woman who can strike today, please do!

Here’s a quick primer on the day.

Advent Calendar for Social Justice

Check out the Advent Calendar for Social Justice here!

We have one month left before we’re in 2017, and although it’s tempting to just curl up into a ball until it’s over, we know that we need to prepare to live in a Trump world. (For the many people who see how this year has just pulled back the mask on what wasn’t all that well hidden to begin with – I hear you. I’m sorry it’s taking some of us so long to figure it out.) Okay, so let’s live in this world, let’s make it as good as we possibly can, and let’s do it together.

anarchy

I used to be a weekly churchgoer, and the rhythms of the church year still echo in my life. The season leading up to Christmas is called Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, during which Christians prepare for the coming of the savior of the world. They prepare for the end of the world as we know it and the arrival of a better world we can barely imagine. This year, we are preparing for what certainly feels like the end of the world, and it’s hard to see anything beyond it. Trump is the opposite of a savior, no matter how he brands himself in his populist speeches. So this year we need to prepare ourselves to be our own saviors, to save ourselves from what we’ve allowed to happen. (I’m speaking mostly to my fellow straight white cis folks here – people of color and queer folk have been doing the heavy lifting since forever.)

This election seems to have served as a wake-up call for many of us. It’s not right that it took a loss that will devastate so many lives and alter the fabric of our democracy to serve as such, but here we are. So now what? is the question I see most frequently on Facebook, Twitter, in the news. There are a lot of good answers out there, from better thinkers than I. Read them, discuss them with friends and family, take action.

But for what it’s worth, here is my “what now?” response. Advent is a time of preparation, so let’s prepare. For each day of December, I’m going to take concrete action that makes me more prepared to resist the Trump presidency, or that offers some resistance now, or that contributes something good and kind to the world. Some of these actions can be done anywhere in the world, and some are US-specific.

I also think it’s important to do a mix of overtly political and more community-building or “good deeds” type things. Especially if you haven’t been politically active before, you may find this a little intimidating, but what we’ve seen from the way Trump’s campaign was run, and now after the election, is that white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia play a prominent role in people’s political decisions and everyday lives. Coaching Little League builds community, yes, please keep doing that — but also see how you can assist your local Black Lives Matter chapter, to build community in that way as well. And artists — keep creating, always. Artists are vital.

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Will you join me for this month? Especially for people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves political, or who don’t have much experience with activism, I tried to make this an accessible collection of things to do that will show how easy it is to fit these things into our busy lives, and how it’s not that scary to do.

If you have suggestions, please comment. Share this with anyone you like. The key is to take action, and to do it together. So call your mom, talk to your coworker, make a new friend, and go all in. As Angela Davis recently said, “How do we begin to recover from this shock? By experiencing and building and rebuilding and consolidating community. Community is the answer.”

Here is where I was going to put the calendar, but I can’t get it to embed. So please click through to the Advent Calendar for Social Justice. Be sure to click on each day to see notes and useful links with further info for each action item.

This calendar is intended as a helpful tool for people who want to do something, but aren’t sure where to start. I hope it will help you sample different ways of taking action, so that in the new year, you’ll be better prepared to really dig in to volunteering, donating, and organizing roles. I’d love your feedback. I consider it a live document and will adjust it as necessary.

Shout-out to Liz and Emmett for providing excellent advice and action items.

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Resources for Educating Yourself and Taking Action:
Accomplices Not Allies
A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support
Oh Crap! What Now? A Survival Guide
Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice
“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet
What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
What to Do Instead of Calling the Police

Organizations Fighting the Good Fight:
350
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International
Black Lives Matter
Campaign Zero
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Emily’s List
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Disability Rights Network
National Women’s Law Center
Planned Parenthood
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The True Colors Fund
Welcoming Refugees

Image 1. Image 2. Image 3.

 

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

I got a rush on Saturday that I hadn’t felt in years, the kind I get when I’m in a large action with other people, all of us united for a common cause. I’ve been traveling around for the last three years, so I haven’t been in the kind of protests I joined in Chicago or my hometown. It felt good to join in with tens of thousands of people (estimates range from 70,000 to 250,000) and raise our voices on behalf of the many. And the many were saying–forget austerity, embrace true prosperity for all.

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

Austerity in Britain has had the usual effect of making the poor poorer and the rich richer, and the new cuts to social programs being proposed and implemented now will drastically change the fabric of British society, in a way that we Americans have a hard time understanding, because the Brits started with more than we’ve ever won for ourselves. To lose these social programs is truly devastating.

There've already been too many cuts--the system can't handle any more

There’ve already been too many cuts–the system can’t handle any more

I marched with friends in the National Union of Teachers block, which had the benefit of putting me in a group that I’m entirely comfortable with and fully supportive of (pretty much everyone I know is a teacher), and putting me right near the start of the march. By the time we walked the 2.5 miles from Bank in the City of London to Parliament Square in the City of Westminster, some people at the back had barely made it past the starting point.

Hare Krishnas got everyone in a festive mood while we waited for the march to start

Hare Krishnas got everyone in a festive mood while we waited for the march to start

People used to shout "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" "Out, Out, Out!" at anti-Thatcher demos in the '80s. Today, a simple "Tory, Tory, Tory" will get the same response.

None of the major political parties is officially anti-austerity. Everyone’s buying into the big lie. Except the Greens, bless ’em (and possibly SNP as well).

We stood pretty near the stage in Parliament Square and listened to an impressive succession of short speeches. The organizers kept the people talking to a maximum of three minutes each, and everyone was on-message about how these cuts would hurt the most needy of society, and how the Conservatives won the election but they hardly have a mandate for austerity, and how we all need to keep up the pressure to change these harmful policies before they get any farther. (Not to mention they want to ax the Human Rights Act and re-fund the nuclear weapons program, which is so impossibly backwards it must be the premise to a dystopian sci-fi novel.)

Along the march

Along the march

Over and over, they reminded us that it wasn’t the nurses and teachers who created the financial crisis, it was the bankers. It’s not the millionaires who need these programs, it’s the disabled, the domestic violence victims, the hungry. And it’s not the UK that’s going to thrive in austerity, it’s the bankers and millionaires.

I live tweeted some of the speeches, so most of these I don’t have proper attribution–I wasn’t familiar with all the speakers so I don’t remember all their names.

‘We’re the 6th richest nation on the planet, don’t tell me we can’t afford the NHS’

People used to shout "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie" "Out, Out, Out!" at anti-Thatcher demos in the '80s. Today, a simple "Tory, Tory, Tory" will get the same response.

People used to shout “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie” “Out, Out, Out!” at anti-Thatcher demos in the ’80s. Today, a simple “Tory, Tory, Tory” will get the same response.

‘If you make our lives unbearable, we will make this society ungovernable’

In a nutshell

In a nutshell

‘If they thought they won the war with austerity on May the 8th, they need to think again’

Not sure what the smoke bombs were about, but there were different colors throughout the march

Not sure what the smoke bombs were about, but there were different colors throughout the march

‘They were worried about that building crumbling [pointing to the Houses of Parliament]. I’m more worried about democracy crumbling.’ Caroline Lucas

‘It looks to me like socialism is far from an anachronism. It’s back in fashion. Keep fighting, this is just the beginning’

‘David Cameron, you are wrong. This is what I call an opposition!’

I love this way of phrasing it--it gets to the idea of how undemocratic this election result was (24% of the popular vote is no majority)

I love this way of phrasing it–it gets to the idea of how undemocratic this election result was (24% of the popular vote is no majority)

‘Our victory will be your victory’ message from Greece

Greek flags at the ready

Greek flags at the ready

‘If you think the rich should pay their taxes, shout as loud as you can’

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London #EndAusterityNow Demo in London #EndAusterityNow Demo in London

‘I’m proud to be British because of our national health service, our welfare system, and David Bowie’ Charlotte Church

‘Austerity is about divide and rule. It’s about destroying the things that give us our humanity so the powerful can stay in power’ Francesca Martinez

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

 

We left during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech (he’s the only candidate for Labour leader who’s anti-austerity–vote accordingly!), because you know, after several hours marching and rallying, nature does call. (Apparently I missed Owen Jones and Russell Brand, both of whom I wouldn’t mind seeing sometime.)

Lovely,simple design on this sign

Lovely, simple design on this sign

So the final speech I heard in full was from Francesca Martinez, a comedian I’m not familiar with but definitely want to hear more of. Her speech was my favorite. She celebrated the social programs of Britain as examples of humanity at its best, and she decried the actual evil of those who want to cut them down to nothing as part of a program to fix an economy that those same people in power broke in the first place with their banking schemes. We must fight for these programs in a fight for our better selves and a better humanity. She said, ‘Every one of us has a duty to each other to protect what is beautiful about being human.’ I can’t think of a better way to phrase why I went on the demo on Saturday–and why I’ll go to more.

#EndAusterityNow Demo in London

Voting in the UK

I voted in the UK for the first time yesterday (my mom is British so I have citizenship, fortunate me). Everyone told me how easy it was, and that was not a lie.

First, I went online to register. I entered my National Insurance number (which is basically proof of ability to work based on my citizenship; the number is used on tax forms and things). If you don’t have such a number, they have other questions but you may still be able to vote. Then you enter your address so they can determine your constituency–and here’s the big difference from voting in the US.

Back in the US, a lot of states are making it more difficult to vote, by insisting on photo ID, stripping prisoners of the right to vote, insisting students only register in one district, not permitting temporary addresses, etc. In the UK, the registration site explains how to use the right address if you’re in a hospital or prison, if you’re a student, and even if you’re homeless. If you can’t provide an address at all, you can contact your election office and you may still be able to vote. This is great! This is removing barriers to voting rather than creating them. That’s what we should be doing.

For the actual voting, I went to my polling station, which was literally around the corner from my house, stood in line for 7 minutes, gave my name to an election officer who checked it off a list, took my paper to a booth, and put an X next to the candidate of my choice. Dead simple.

The election may not have gone as I’d hoped, but the process of registering and voting gave me hope for how we might help enfranchise people back in the States.

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#BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe: Resources for a Post-Ferguson America

Watching the murderers of Mike Brown and Eric Garner walk away unpunished in any way has been infuriating and heartbreaking. These two cases (and there are more cases coming to light every day, such as that of Tamir Rice) highlight the extreme racism and injustice at the root of American law and culture. Following people on Twitter and reading blog posts and articles linked from Facebook has helped me learn more and direct my energies and monies to movements that are responding on the ground (since I’m in London and can’t be there in person to march).

From blacklivesmatter.com

I’ve compiled some pieces here for Learning and Taking Action. This is mostly for my fellow white people, since a lot of this is explanatory in a way that people of color don’t need to hear because they’re living it. There are a range of pieces, from beginner to advanced stage anti-racism, so don’t be scared if you’re new to listening and talking about race in an informed way. Certainly I’m not any kind of expert, but a lot of the writers here are, so please take a look. I can especially recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates, Melissa Harris-Perry, Jay Smooth, Janet Mock, and Latoya Peterson as people to follow, read, and learn from.

Let’s not look away. Let’s look this straight in the face and tell it where to go.

Please go to the comments to share any other links you’ve found helpful.

From blacklivesmatter.tumblr.com

LEARN

If you’re only going to read one link from this post, read this one by the excellent Luvvie. It’s smart and comprehensive but succinct, and she uses funny GIFs.

White and not really understanding why people are so upset about Ferguson and Eric Garner? It’s probably because you’re mostly talking to other white people–that’s the norm in the US, as this article explains. Time to broaden what you read and who you talk to.

Here’s an even more accessible article on how acknowledging white privilege and working against racism doesn’t mean you have to hate white people, just the terrible racist system that white people put into place and now perpetuate.

The devastating new rules for being black in the United States. My friends have a baby not yet two months old, and knowing he’ll learn these rules makes me furious.

Eric Garner’s widow, Esaw, is not accepting the apology of her husband’s killer. She’s furious, she’s grieving, and she’s not letting Pantaleo make himself feel better by getting her to forgive him.

Bevin’s great collection of resources and reflections over at Queer Fat Femme highlighted this article, which reveals that #BlackLivesMatter is a specific movement founded by queer black women. It’s good to be aware of the origins of this widely-used hashtag.

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to be one of the foremost writers on a lot of things, but especially race. Here he talks about Obama’s reaction to Ferguson, and what the system is set up to do and not do.

One piece of laminated plastic means this Vassar College professor experiences humiliating, dangerous situations rather than life-threatening situations –and he’s never allowed to forget it.

Don’t repeat the ignorant ‘but what about black-on-black crime?’ question. Coates has you covered.

The last words of some black and brown people murdered in the United States, in artwork.

We like to think that the non-indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown case (and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin) are evidence of flaws in the American justice system, but this straightforward piece argues that they’re just links in the chain of a justice system doing what it’s designed to do–oppress people of color for the benefit of white people in this country.

From blacklivesmatter.blogspot.co.uk

ACT

Steps to take as a white person if the Ferguson case is just shaking you awake to the trenchant racism alive and well in the United States. Self-educate and get involved! (I especially like the intro, in which the author Janee Woods wonders why so few reactions to the case appeared on her Facebook wall–something I wondered about when looking at my wall, too.)

You want facts to convince you of the unfairness of what happened? You want convincing that protests are worthwhile? Check out this post on how to talk about Ferguson and the aftermath.

Support people taking anti-racist action in the aftermath of Ferguson by making a gift to various organizations. ‘Tis the season, right?

Do you interact with kids as a teacher, parent, guardian, relative, friend? Here’s a great resource on how to talk with them about what’s been going on.

If you already consider yourself an active ally, take a look at this piece that challenges us to be accomplices rather than allies.

Don’t contribute to #CrimingWhileWhite–keep the focus on #AliveWhileBlack.

Visit Ferguson Action and Ferguson Response for actions you can join in on.

AND SOME HOPE

Look, redirect your money for militarizing police forces to these trainings instead, and eliminate police killings of citizens in under a decade! It truly is a culture we can change, not a given we must resign ourselves to.

Don’t Shoot rally at Howard University (From http://www.cbc.ca)

Labor Day: We Still Have So Much Work to Do

Happy Labor Day, fellow Americans! I hope you’re all enjoying barbecue with loved ones. For my friends outside the US who may not know, Labor Day is the American version of May Day; it used to hold a lot more power as a holiday recognizing workers’ rights, but now it’s generally seen as the the last party of the summer. Let’s take a moment to remember why we get to have the party.

Especially this year, when we’re remembering the March on Washington 50 years ago, I think it’s important to be grateful on Labor Day for the protections and opportunities we have, while we fight for the ones we’ve lost or haven’t gained yet. The nationwide attack on teachers–especially nasty in Chicago–in the guise of helping students. The “right-to-work” laws passed in 24 states (an amazing semantic victory for the right). The gender wage gap. Crippling student loan debt–and the recent doubling of interest rates on those debts. Blocked immigration reform. An unlivable minimum wage. Minimal support for new families, especially mothers in the workforce. Legal discrimination against LGBT folks. There’s a lot about employment in the US that needs fixing. (Click on those links to see groups that are taking action; you can join them.)

Obama’s speech this past Wednesday was pretty good, but the line that adapted MLK’s famous one is great: “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” He then urges everyone to continue fighting the good fight, a point he makes in a lot of speeches but far too frequently contradicts in his actions as president. Still, he’s not wrong. The reason we have the workers’ rights we have is because people fought for them, and not just the union leaders and lobbyists paid to fight for them. People who were tired after a long day at work then went out and rallied in the streets, wrote to members of Congress, went on strike, made changes to local laws, talked to their friends and neighbors about what was going on, elected leaders who promised to fight the fight with them. You don’t have to come home from work tired and angry with workplace injustices and your lot in life. You can come home from work tired and happy with the work you do and the conditions you work in. You can come home from work fired up to make work a place you want to return to.

So raise a toast to the unions and workers of yesterday and make a pledge to join with the ones who are fighting for a better life today. Because Labor Day means a lot more than the last day of the season to wear white.

Put Those Guns Down

July 13, 2013 has been a date I’ve looked forward to for months now, as the date I’d be back in East Lansing, seeing my family and friends. It was a great day for me, but as I learned from the paper the next day, it was a terrible day for justice in this country. George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, and the Stand Your Ground law of Florida is now firmly established as a law that does just the opposite of its supposed intention: it is now legal to intimidate and chase down an unarmed teenager, then shoot them dead after 911 tells you to back off–and you can do it all while claiming you’re the one being victimized. I heard someone say they weren’t surprised by the verdict, but I say you don’t have to be surprised to be outraged.

One of the major differences between the United States and other Western countries is that we are the only country that not only sees gun violence as a sad but inevitable part of normal life, but that fiercely defends those who want to keep it that way. Literally everyone I’ve met from another country can’t comprehend the American approach to guns. We actually have a hard time discussing the issue, even, because the idea that civilians can be so casually and heavily armed is utterly foreign to them.

A lot of people want to know if I feel safe traveling in cities around the world, and I tell them I lived in Chicago for five years, which has one of the highest gun homicide rates in the country. I’m no safer at home than I am abroad, and in many ways I’m less safe, in the most mundane of locations: movie theaters, elementary schools, even the fat ladies store I shop at–all of them have been fatal sites of gun violence. Someone had easy access to a deadly weapon, and they used that weapon in a public place, injuring, killing, and terrorizing people trying to live their daily lives. This happens far too often here. I am happy to be back in the States for many reasons, but I’m certainly not feeling safe here.

And I’m not black, or poor, or in an abusive relationship, or any of the other factors that make it far more likely that you’re going to be attacked by someone with a gun. It’s a scary thought for me, but it’s a terrifying reality for millions of people across the country. The racism evident in the shooting, the arrest, the trial, and the verdict is abhorrent, and an integral part of the problem of gun violence in the US. How is this a situation we’ve come to accept as a nation? How is this a country we want to live in? Surely we all want better, safer lives. Sign the petitions, call your representatives, and don’t let up until the gun lobby is defeated and we have strong gun laws in place. It’s the least we can do in memory of Trayvon and the others killed by armed Americans, and the least we can do for our own future.

Affordable Care Act UPHELD

Health care for everyone! I was disappointed Democrats aimed low when they passed the law and essentially gave a whole lotta money to corporations, but it is still worlds better than what we had before. People who are uninsured, poor, young; people with pre-existing conditions; people with uteri… people across the country benefit from the Affordable Care Act, and that is the victory here.

Obama’s chances vs. Romney’s come November is also a big deal, but should not be the main focus in this win for people’s health.

(But ok, for what it’s worth: Republicans will now say “I’ll repeal the law” rather than come up with a new plan, which is easier for them. They’ll say, “See, Obama DID raise taxes!” and that’s not great for Obama either. But Obama’s centerpiece legislation remains, and that’s going to do a lot for his chances, I think.)

Stop SOPA and PIPA!

I can’t figure out how to put the Stop SOPA blackout page on this site today, but I’m not posting new material because I want to draw your attention to these terrible bills that the Senate and House are working on. Check out this site to get a quick rundown of why these bills are a terrible idea.

The kindest light to read them in is that legislators (and their powerful lobbyists like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America) want to stop copyright violations. But the actual end result of the legislation as written is the ability of the government to shut down any part of the Internet it wants to. That’s right, any time it wants to, the government can just shut down a site and say it’s copyright violation — and they can do it without even allowing the affected site to defend itself. Also, no sites (like Google or Facebook or anything) will be able to direct traffic to the affected site.

Your own site disappeared by a government organization because someone doesn’t like it? Sounds like censorship to me.

Stop SOPA and PIPA. Write and call your senator and representative. Obama has come out against the bills as written, but that’s not stopping Congress from trying to push them through anyway. Take action!

A Stowaway From the Past: A Real Family Christmas

Hello dearest fellow travelers! I posted this musing on the original reason for the season last year, but since I feel pretty much the same about it now and am about to begin my time off of work, I’m re-posting it today. Also, stay tuned Thursday for a brand-new post, with video!

I went to church with my family every week for eighteen years, so even though I don’t practice anymore, I’m very interested in the theories and workings of Christianity and people who believe. Don’t get all upset that I’m going to proselytize at you just because I say “Jesus” a lot in this post. Oh and in case any clarification is needed, Pastor Kit graciously allowed me to read the written version of her sermon and quote from it, but don’t take that to mean she endorses any of the rest of this post. That religious right rant is all me, so don’t hold it against her.

Two years ago, I was sitting in my parents’ church on Christmas Eve when the priest, Pastor Kit Carlson, blew my mind. In her sermon, she suggested the idea that Jesus was not born in a lonely stable, but rather in a house full of extended family. Apparently, when Luke writes in his Gospel that “there was no room at the inn,” the word he used for “inn” was actually kataluma, which is more accurately translated as the guest room, or the upper room. And he’d used a totally different word for “inn” later on, when talking about the Good Samaritan, indicating that he wasn’t talking about an inn when he said Mary and Joseph couldn’t stay in the kataluma. The couple was returning to Joseph’s ancestral home for the census, after all; it is more likely than not that he had many relatives in town. Surely those relatives were ready to squeeze in and make room for Joseph and his very pregnant wife, and since there was no space available in the guest room, Mary and Joseph settled down in the main room on the first floor of the house. The homes of the time and region had a split-level first floor, with one side reserved for the humans and the lower side reserved for the animals. There was a gap in the wall between the two, and straw was placed here for the animals to eat. So Mary goes into labor, the women of the house gather ’round to help with the birth, and when Jesus arrives, he is indeed “wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger” — it’s just that the manger happens to be in the family home, rather than in a cold outdoor cave or stable.

JUMP BACK. What?

the traditional nativity sceneThis family picture was photoshopped

This could really change how we think about Jesus not just as the son of God (however you may feel about that), but also as a human, someone who was part of a larger family from his very first breath. As Pastor Kit said, “Jesus was not born into a simple nuclear family. Jesus was born into a clan… And this was how God chose to come into the world.” Obviously the Christmas story is one chock-full of symbolism, whether that symbolism indicates to you a larger truth or not. What does the symbolism of the traditional story say to us as opposed to this new view?

The usual way of looking at the story has Mary and Joseph as social outcasts, their only visitors people driven to the stable by supernatural forces. Only a few special people noticed how special Jesus was, and everyone else was cruelly indifferent or outright hostile to him and his parents. He had a hard and lonely road laid out for him, and that was clear from the start.

But if we look at the story from this new perspective, everything changes. Sure, the family still flees the country because King Herod is after them, but other than that, his parents are not rejected or treated badly. Jesus isn’t born into an uncaring world, but rather one full to bursting with extended family (all of them likely sharing conflicting advice with Mary the moment he pops out). His life path is still a difficult one, but the man who preaches love and peace for all humankind might have believed in these concepts more deeply based on a childhood full of both.

Perhaps Jesus’ extended family bickered a lot, or perhaps they got on well with one another. Maybe they blamed Mary for becoming pregnant before her wedding to Joseph or maybe they accepted the story that Jesus was a premie. The family might have been close or only seen each other once in a blue moon. Regardless of the exact make-up of the family, if they were there at Jesus’ birth and the days that followed, they were an important part of his early life. No matter what kind of family we’re born into, there’s no denying that they shape us, and now we can see how this might have been true for Jesus too.

the delightful family from "While You Were Sleeping"
Welcome to the world, kiddo! Here’s your family

A final note: Not to get too political (not that that’s a surprise on this blog, eh?), but I also think Jesus born into a large family can have implications for Americans in particular. Christians throughout history have clung to the idea of their persecution in the early days of the faith, and there are varying degrees of accuracy to that. However, the religious right in America is steadfast in the belief that this applies to contemporary America and themselves all the time. They seem to truly believe that they are being persecuted for their beliefs, despite the fact that Christianity is overwhelmingly the dominant religion in this country, and God is mentioned in our Pledge of Allegiance, our presidential oath, etc., not to mention you can’t get elected in this country without swearing up, down, and sideways that there has never been a more devoted follower of Jesus than yourself. Despite the fact that it’s non-Christians who continue to bear the brunt of intolerance, the religious right remains convinced.

I’m not saying there’s a direct line between the nativity and this false belief, but think about it: In the traditional story, Jesus and his family are turned away from inn after inn, ignored by their neighbors, and chased out of the country by a ruthless leader intent on their destruction. Jesus is all the more special because only a few recognize his specialness. Too much time focused on how special you are as compared to everyone else, and you can start to treat everyone else badly, which let’s face it, the religious right is really good at doing.

Okay, I know I’ve lost some of you here, and granted, it’s not the most well-thought-out theory, but man, they get so angry and exclusive, despite all Jesus’ actual teachings. They talk about a human family, but they make that family smaller and smaller — no gays, no non-Christians, no powerful women, no one too different from a narrowly defined category.

What if they thought of Jesus being born into a large, loving family instead? What if many people witnessed the birth and celebrated it? What if instead of being a misunderstood prophet from the start, Jesus was an appreciated addition to the family, despite the odd signs and portents surrounding his conception and birth? What if Jesus’ problems with fitting in only came later, and in the beginning his family accepted him for who he was and what he meant to them? What an inclusive way to view the virgin birth. What a wonderful way to start a story.

American Christians, instead of feeling put-upon and misunderstood, can look at this story and see a new way to view their current situation: just like all of us, they are born into this large, loud, extended family of humanity, and just like all of us, they can grow up and give back to this weird and wonderful family with love and joy. Just like Jesus.