Victims of Violence
Our furnace isn't working - again - and now that Christmas has passed, it seems as though winter's icy glare is settling in deeper, deadening life and slowing the rhythms of the world.
Of course we all could use a slowdown these days, a moment to hold our collective breath and perhaps consider thinking, or even praying, for a moment before we decide to hate and maim and kill each other again, or ourselves, with ever-punishing work and January austerity diets.
I watched, with you, and with the world, as over the past week a man was killed in Iran by a weapon sent from America.
Through his work with Iran's Quds Force, an elite division of the Revolutionary Guard, and his strategizing with Iranian supported militias throughout the Middle East, Soleimani plotted violence, murder and death.
He was complicit in an Iranian regime that denies the rights of women and minorities, forcing its people to bear the weight of crushing economic sanctions, a brilliant and creative populace stifled under polluted air and rising temperatures, due to climate change and government apathy for its people.
As I get older, though, I become more convinced that maybe we all deserve to die.
We betray and oppress each other in myriad ways. The consequences are simply easier to bear when our actions cause the slow, unpublished deaths of people across the world, not by missile strikes but by Asia bearing the weight of America's plastic trash, or black Americans facing the weight of a racist criminal justice system, or Americans living in poverty preyed upon by prescription drug manufacturers and opiate prescribers and sellers.
If we want to end evil by killing the evil ones, where do we start and where does it end? In the mirror?
My son currently attends first grade in the Minneapolis Public School District, one of the most racially unequal school districts in the country. White students tend to do well in the Minneapolis Public Schools, and white families, clustered in the South and Southwest corners of the city generally, tend to have lots of options for quality schools. Students of color, in contrast, have fewer options and often attend schools marked by inexperienced teachers, or unsafe routes to school around centers of gang violence. Test scores show the results of drastically different experiences for students.
As the daughter, daughter-in-law, and sister of public school teachers (my mom and brother work/worked primarily in schools that are in high-poverty areas and majority students of color), I'm a huge advocate for teachers and for public schools. I care a lot about racial justice.
But I have to look in the mirror, too. We chose our house in Minneapolis because its community schools are the best in the district. They're also overwhelmingly white. I don't want to lose access to the schools we sacrificed for so that my son might attend.
What can we do?
Many times it's easier to diagnose the problems than to suggest a treatment plan.
Right now I can't even get my furnace to work properly, I need to lose some weight, and I dropped my youngest off late at preschool this morning.
You can add your own list of inefficiencies and imperfections here.
When you add the weight of the world to the weight of your life, it feels unbearable. I hear a voice shouting in the distance: "Retreat! Retreat!"
And many of us have. We've retreated to our safe corners of the world and of the Internet, siloing ourselves off from voices that might challenge or disagree.
This morning, amidst headlines about Iran and Australia and American political stalemate over impeachment, I read a story from my local Minneapolis paper about a northern Minnesota county that voted to reject refugee resettlement, despite the fact that no refugees had been resettled in the county for at least five years.
The county includes a portion of the Red Lake Reservation, made up of some of the few Americans who did not come to this country as immigrants or refugees themselves. Notably, the county commissioner representing the Red Lake Nation, Tim Sumner, was one of only two commissioners who gave consent for the county to consider refugee resettlement. He said later he found it hard to understand how people who had come to this country as re-settlers could tell other re-settlers, "You are not welcome."
In nearby St. Louis County, home to Duluth, more than 40 people gathered to debate the issue. The commissioners decided to postpone a decision.
I'm reminded of the words from a Virginia, Minn., resident, home to the Iron Range and once-proud Union Democrats whose story mirrored manufacturing and white blue-collar jobs across America's Rust Belt and Midwest.
He told the Star Tribune that St. Louis County just didn't have the resources for refugees. They couldn't care for their "own people."
These are hard choices, my friends. These are decisions made by an overwhelmed, exhausted, and powerless and nihilist people. These are decisions made easier to understand when you read about the ways the opioid epidemic has devastated Duluth, which confronts its own homelessness crisis despite bone-chilling winter temperatures.
People finding themselves lost without a compass find it hard to be generous to others. When you shame them for their decisions made in a vacuum, the only result is more battening down of the hatches, more retreat, more closed doors.
In times like these, we must turn to those experienced in oppression and seeking justice in a world pitted against them. Listen to the voices of native people, like Tim Sumner in Beltrami County. A voice crying out in the wilderness. Listen to the voices of African-American Christians, the heirs to Civil Rights movement and abolitionists. Listen to the voices of women, who have always picked up the pieces after war and death.
Listen, too, to one another's voices. Minnesota Gvr. Tim Walz lamented that decisions about refugees had been moved down to a local level, pitting local people against one another and making it hard to hear truth above emotion and angry noise.
These conversations are painful. Peoples' pain and desperation is on display, in a cold winter that seems interminable, as desperate migrants from around the world risk life and limb for a better life for their children, boarding risky inflatable rafts to sail to freedom, or at least to not-death.
We cannot comprehend one another's lives or struggles, or diminish others' struggles in the face of our own.
We cannot calculate the value of human life on a spreadsheet, whether that life is Iranian or American, young or old, black or white, man or woman.
The victims of violence are everywhere. The haunted eyes of Rohingya children, abandoned by a one-time advocate for peace in Myanmar. Schoolchildren in America with their hands over their heads, practicing active shooter drills. Churchgoers loading their guns before walking into the sanctuary. You and I, seeing one another on the street, and avoiding eye contact.
I guess my prescription for all of us today, victims of a violent world, is to look up again into the eyes of another and see yourself in them, realizing that our freedom and salvation is bound up together.
I'm drawn again to these words from Jesus in Matthew 11: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."