Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Blessing of a Password

When I was a teacher, I often learned from my students, and looked forward to those moments. As a librarian, I often learn from the people who come to get my help with computer issues.

Such was the case with the woman who wanted me to help her set up a new email account.

We had gotten through all the basic stuff like first name, last name, and desired username; and now it was time to create a password. I gave her my standard spiel about not using “password”, your dog’s name, 12345678, or “monkey” (really), and was about to give her some of my ideas about how to create one, when she told me one of her own.

“They tell me that your password should be something that people normally wouldn’t associate with you, so I want my password to be GodBlessTrump.”

I raised my eyebrow, and then she continued.

“Make no mistake, I despise the man. I think he’s a vile creature, and both an embarrassment and a danger to our country. But I also think that man needs some serious help, and I figure that every time I type that in as a password, I’m asking God to give him all the help he needs to do a good job and not get us all killed.”

I nodded my head to indicate that I understood what she was saying. So often we use the word “bless” to indicate approval or special favor, but as I’ve said before, it also can also mean divine care…which is most decidedly not the same as asking God to give him whatever he wants, but rather, asking God to help him, by giving him the wisdom, caring, sense of justice, sense of decency, and sense of others outside himself that are necessary for being a good human being, let alone a decent president.

Then she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “And maybe that SOB will learn a thing from Dr Seuss, and what little heart he has now will grow three sizes!”

We both had a good laugh, and then we entered her desired password.

The system wouldn’t accept it.

She laughed and said, “It hates him more than I do?”

“Oh no,” I said, laughing myself. “I know what the problem is. You need a special character in there too.”

“Like an exclamation point at the end?”

“That’ll probably work.”

And indeed it did.

Now, every time she types in her password, she is most emphatically asking God to make Trump into a better human being.

Hmm…maybe I’ll go change my password.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The "Brutality" in Our Pasts

A few years back I was thinking about a rather unpleasant subject…rape. I was wondering how far back each of us had to go before we discovered that one of our ancestors was born as a result of someone being raped. I figured that it’s not just a possibility, but a certainty that each of us has a rape in our family tree.

It could’ve been from that thundering horde of Cossacks going on a rampaging, pillaging, and raping spree through certain villages in Russia and Eastern Europe 300 or so years ago. It could’ve been from a group of Vikings on one of their raids centuries before that. It could’ve been a drunk on the streets of Dublin a mere hundred years ago, who was forced to “do the right thing” by the girl…which we now know wasn’t the right thing by her at all. Going back even further and spreading out all over the globe, as we look at the “spoils of war” how many women were raped and became pregnant as a result of the “business as usual” of war? And where are the descendants of those children? Surely we all have at least one of those in our family history.

The thing is that for most of us that’s so far back, and so untraceable, that we don’t even think about it. In fact, I’m betting that none of you thought about this until now.

But I thought about it again while listening to a recent NPR piece about the popularity of the new DNA testing kits that promise to tell you “where you’re from”, or at least what your percentages are. After getting their figures back many people start off excitedly on a quest to find out more about the different places they came from.

Many white people, that is.

The story was different for many of the African-Americans interviewed. They saw the upwards of 20% European heritage in their ancestry, and they didn’t go traipsing off to England or Scotland or Spain to find that part of their families. That 20% was a disturbing reminder of what they euphemistically referred to as the “brutality” that African-Americans suffered under slavery.

Let’s face it…the “brutality” they’re talking about is rape. The same rape that’s in everyone’s background.

So then, what makes this ancestral rape different from all other ancestral rapes? What makes the fact that there’s rape in our family history different from the fact that there’s rape in the family history of everyone else in the world around us…white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, indigenous peoples of any continent?

Is it the fact that ours happened relatively recently? No, that can’t be it; after all the Cossacks were definitely ransacking, pillaging, and raping within the past 400 years. And that’s well within the timeframe of the arrival of the first African indentured servants to the British colonies in North America. Even that drunk in Dublin did his horrible deed within the past hundred years. And what about the girl who was raped a mere 30 years ago and put her child up for adoption…a child whose mother and father were both pretty ambiguously white, and therefore whose DNA test wouldn’t necessarily reveal anything about the family of the villain who caused the child to be born in the first place…a child who didn’t know the circumstance leading to their birth?

No, that can’t be it.

I guess that one thing is just the knowing of it. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. Even before the DNA testing, we all knew that we all had some white in us. Otherwise we’d be as black as the darkest Africans. And at some point we figured out that the European ancestry we had in us wasn’t consensual. So it must be the knowing for a fact that it did happen, and by whom. It must be the knowing that it did happen and exactly within what time period and under what cultural circumstances. It must be knowing that it did happen by people who were unambiguously not of our ethnic background.

Yes…it’s the knowing who did it that makes it different. And knowing who did it makes you less likely to want to trace that part of your ancestral heritage. I’m betting that had that adopted 30-year-old known that their mother was Italian and her assailant was German, they likely wouldn’t be excited about claiming their German heritage.

Yet…we’re at an important turning point in American history…one where record numbers of people are partnering, marrying, and having children, across not just ethnic lines (who cares about Polish and Italian anymore), but across racial ones. And with that being done, it can’t be assumed that the all of the 60% European in the DNA of a biracial child comes from “brutality.” Perhaps 10% is, but which 10%? No one knows.

Perhaps that will eventually bring all of us back to the fact we all have a rape in our family tree.

And that it wasn’t necessarily just by “those people” to “my people.”

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Tent Big Enough for All of Us

Just this past year South Dakota got its first full-time rabbi in over a generation. Mendel Alperowitz, an Orthodox rabbi, is going to serve a state where there are not only fewer than 1000 Jews, but where most of that small number are Reform Jews. What he says about that in his interview on NPR is instructive for many of us Christians:

Well, see, it's interesting because the way we look at it is every Jew is really a Jew. No Jew any less Jewish than Moses or Abraham, and we're excited to welcome all Jews. And rather than us putting up artificial barriers and division between people, we're just having an open home and ready to welcome everybody, like Abraham and Sarah welcomed everybody to their tents. We view everyone like Abraham and Sarah, and our doors will always be open.

To them all Jews are Jews, and they’re all welcome. Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, non-practicing. Those who keep kosher and those who don’t even know what it means, those who won’t carry their house keys on the Sabbath and those for whom Friday night and Saturday are merely part of “living for the weekend”, those who try to follow all 613 Levitical commandments and those for whom 613 is merely the number after 612. They all will be welcome in Rabbi Alperowitz’s tent. He sees himself as the rabbi to all the Jews in South Dakota.

So why can’t we be like this? Why do Christians have to be so divisive, and claim that you’re not a “real Christian” unless you believe and behave exactly like us?

Well, OK, let me clarify…we’re not all like that. It’s just “those people over there.” My people, the people on the more liberal part of the Christian spectrum do tend to maintain that Christianity is a big tent, with room enough for all. It’s those on the more conservative side who tend to look askance at us, and question whether or not we even belong in the same campground.

And this, despite the fact that in one of my favorite New Testament passages, Paul compares the body of Christ to an actual body…where every part is needed…eyes, ears, hands, feet, and heads. And to this I might add even the parts the we consider armpits and buttholes.

But what Rabbi Alperowitz says is even more instructive for us because is an Orthodox rabbi from the Lubavitcher movement. That’s perhaps the most conservative segment of Judaism. He’s saying that you’re a Jew whether or not you’re a Jew like us. Whether or not you believe and practice like us. Whether or not you’re super conservative or super liberal. You’re still one of us, you’re still family, and you’re welcome in our tent.

Why can’t more of us be like Rabbi Alperowitz? Why can’t all of us be like Rabbi Alperowitz? Why can’t we all say that it doesn’t matter where you stand on capital punishment, infant baptism, abortion, wine vs grape juice, gay rights, female clergy, marriage equality, dancing and playing cards (but not at the same time), divorce, and a host of other things; because there’s room in this tent for all of us? Why do we have to insist on our little group’s way being the standard, while everyone else is wrong and needs to be converted to our view before we accept them as part of the group?

Heck…why can’t we do that in the secular world as well?

Now, to be sure, my people aren’t totally without fault either. While we may grudgingly accept the fact that the more conservative Christians, who look down on us, are also Christians, there are just some who we think are too weird to count, those whose beliefs and practices are just too far from the mainstream for us to consider “real Christians”, even though they may consider themselves to be. And maybe it’s time for us to make room in the tent for them too.

So that we can be more like Rabbi Alperowitz.