Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Two Men I Love

Okay, I love more than two men, but these two are my newest loves: Jimmy Carter and Tyler Perry.
In the past several days both of these men have made headlines for standing up for justice, for tolerance, for the oppressed.
Jimmy Carter publicly broke ties with the Southern Baptist Church because of their stance against ordaining women and their insistence that women be subservient to men.
In an essay he wrote for The Age Carter said, “At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”

How can you not love this man? Later, in the same essay, he went even further:

“The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.”

Former President Jimmy Carter took a stand with an oppressed group. As a man, it would have been easier for him to remain silent. Or, at the very least, to silently cut ties with the church with which he had been affiliated for 60 years. But his principles wouldn’t allow him to do this. He wanted to make a stand for the 50% of the population that has too long been oppressed by a patriarchal religious system. He made public an inward conviction that had probably been festering and growing for years. He might lose support in some public sectors but, to him, it was more important to stand true to his principles than to worry about how popular his statement was.

Tyler Perry made a similar, yet different statement about oppression in response to a racial slap in the face to 65 African American and Latin@ day camp kids who were turned away from a Philadelphia swimming pool after complaints from white parents.
According to
Creative Steps, located in northeast Philadelphia, had contracted for the 65 children at the day camp to go each Monday afternoon, Wright said. But shortly after they arrived June 29, she said, some black and Hispanic children reported hearing racial comments.
"A couple of the children ran down saying, 'Miss Wright, Miss Wright, they're up there saying, 'What are those black kids doing here?'"
Wright said she went to talk to a group of members at the top of the hill and heard one woman say she would see to it that the group, made of up of children in kindergarten through seventh grade, did not return.
"Some of the members began pulling their children out of the pool and were standing around with their arms folded," Wright said. "Only three members left their children in the pool with us."

Tyler Perry, an African American film director with several hits to his credit wrote this on his blog at his website
“This is awful, and for anyone that has grown up in the inner-city, you know that one small act of kindness can change your life. These kids see the images of President Obama on TV and then they see the drug dealers and thugs on the corner. Which do you think is more their reality? One act of kindness, one person telling them that they are special, one moment of encouragement can make them move mountains. I know it to be true because I was one of them. They don't need to be called names and be told that they are less than, because of the color of their skin or because of where they come from.”

He could identify with this story because he has lived it. He has come a long way from the inner city with fame and talent creating an insulated barrier between him and this kind of racist actions, but he chose to reach through that protective barrier to help these kids know a different reality.
He is sending them on a three day trip to Orlando, FL to visit Disney World as well as some of the Disney water parks located there as well.
On his blog, he writes, “And do me a favor please. When you see these kids coming through the airport (I'm sure you won't be able to miss them; I imagine they are going to be superexcited), when you see them in the park and in the hotel, let's show them a whole lot of love and respect. Show them that they are just as good as anyone else. And show them that they can do or be anything they want to be no matter what anyone says!”

Two men who are far removed from the oppression that haunts women and poor minorities chose to make a difference. What is happening to women based on conservative religious bias (of any stripe) and what is happening to poor, inner city minorities don’t impact these two men directly, but they chose to make a difference. They chose to show the world the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, they chose to show respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

That’s why I love these two men and all others who publicly throw their lot in with the oppressed. That is why I love being a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association who daily commits to these principles of inclusion and equity.
In fact, since Jimmy Carter is looking for a new faith, I hope he looks to us, and the same for Tyler Perry. We would be richer for their presence as they would be for ours.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Dreams May Come

June 2, 2009 (7:19pm)
I just read, in a three hour sitting, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows. It was an amazing story of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII.
The book itself was luminous, at times heart-wrenchingly tragic and at other times laugh out loud funny. It was poignant, bittersweet, profound.
All those superlatives would be enough to have made the time spent reading the book well-invested, but there was an unexpected dividend I discovered as I read the afterword. Like the story itself, heart-wrenching, poignant, bitter-sweet profound.
Mary Ann Shaffer had always wanted to write a book someone would find worth publishing. In 1980 she traveled to England to research the life of Kathleen Scott– the wife of polar explorer Robert Scott. Disappointed by the lack of materials available she jettisoned the project but for some unknown reason took a trip to Guernsey. Stranded in the airport during a fog she read books about the German Occupation found in the airport bookstore and was entranced by the possibility of writing a book set in that time.
But she did nothing with this idea for over 20 years. She did belong to a writing group, however, and they eventually goaded her into writing.
She was directed to an agent who found a publisher who bought the book but asked for a major re-write of portions of the story. She was thrilled but had fallen ill and didn’t have the stamina to complete the re-write so her niece, Annie Barrows stepped in to do the job.
This book, which has sold millions of copies worldwide and has received so much critical acclaim is the result of her, and her niece’s efforts.
Her first novel was published a few months after her death in February, 2008.
All she had ever wanted to do was to write a book someone would want to publish.
She had held onto to the idea about writing a story set in Guernsey for 20 years.
She was goaded and encouraged and supported by so many people into actually doing it.
She couldn’t have known she was going to die before it was published. Perhaps she still thought she had all the time in the world to write. Perhaps, for most of her adult life she thought, "Someday, I’m going to write a book someone will want to publish." But for most of her life, she never did it. Until she did.
She was 74 when she died. How long had she held her dream of being published? What kept her from writing it earlier. It is a bitter-sweet success story– her dream fulfilled. It is heart-wrenching to think she never got to see all the accolades her book has garnered. It is a poignant reminder that dreams are seed that must take root in our actions and commitment to the dreams in order for them to become reality.
I am richer for having read this book, for finding the dividend in the story of how it was written. It would have been such an unknown loss if Mary Ann kept putting off her dream until it was too late to come to fruition.
What a poignant reminder to me, to all of us, perhaps, that we are given dreams, passions for a reason– but none of us can be guaranteed that we will always have the time to fulfill those dreams. It is up to us, only us, to take the first step, then the second and third, to making our dreams a reality.
Mary Ann Shaffer’s dream came true, for which I am exceedingly grateful– for her sake, and for mine. She wrote a book, that not only did someone want to publish, but millions wanted to read.
And her story makes me want to allow my dreams to come true, as well– maybe they won’t be as profound as The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but they still deserve a chance. As do yours.