How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?

My Husband: My Stylist

My Husband: My Stylist

My husband is my stylist. For real.

There’s a small pile of clothes on my dresser right now, awaiting the judgment of my stylist, who has been away on business for a couple days.

I ordered a few fall items last week, and I won’t rip the tags off without consulting my husband first. Not because I’m looking for his permission (gosh no!), but simply because he has a better eye than me, and I appreciate his input.

I first realized this when we were dating, and he convinced me to a buy a classic navy sundress from Ann Taylor that I wore for 5 years. It was flattering. It hugged my curves in all the best places and skimmed over the less-than-perfect parts, and the color made my blue eyes pop. But I wouldn’t have picked it on my own because it was, at the time, more than I would typically spend.

My husband’s fashion sense was confirmed during our engagement as I chose a color for the bridesmaids dresses. He actually knew (and could spot) the difference between cornflower and periwinkle blue.

Have I told you that I hate to shop?

Really. Hate. To. Shop.

Years later, I complained one June about needing to buy a couple new dresses, as we had a slew of Christenings, weddings, and sundry parties to attend in the following months.

That afternoon, he waltzed into our kitchen with two new shifts that he had bought straight off the Lord & Taylor racks in under 15 minutes. One fit me perfectly. The other needed minor alterations at the shoulders.

No joke.

I told him other women would laugh at me if they knew, because they’d think I have no ability to dress myself.

He shrugged. Then added, “I appreciate your body more than you do,” and smiled in a come-hither kind of way.

Ahem.

Alright, then.

It has taken some time, but I have accepted that my husband has a legitimate point. He values me (and my body, I guess) in ways that I don’t. And he is looking out for me and the image I put forward in the world.

So – I wonder – am I doing the same for him?

I might not have his same ability to find a garment that is both “on trend” and “spot on” for someone, but am I helping to create a positive impression of him for others?

I hope so.

Do I know his faults?

Of course.

Should I tell you about them?

Probably not.

In the last week, I’ve heard a few women speak poorly of their husbands or other men in their lives. Often, it’s just venting – relieving frustration that builds up in hectic times when we aren’t leaving enough space for deep connection with one another.

But we have to be careful.

There is a fine line between venting, complaining, and disparaging – a downward cut that slices into the bonds of love between us.

We are called to build one another up, to clothe one another with affection and caring. This process happens face-to-face, and when we speak of one another while apart.

Beautifully woven life stories are created when we consistently choose to celebrate our strengths, rather than focus on our flaws.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. – 1 Peter 5:10

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

Thoughts on What’s Happened in Orlando

We were in the 8th grade and sitting on a school bus in Florida when my friend, Michelle, gave me special gift.

I opened the tiny white box she pressed into my hand and found a gold “Chai” pendant. The look of surprise and questioning must have been all over my face. image

Michelle explained that in her faith tradition, Judaism, people often wore the “Chai” – pronounced similarly to “hi” in English – on necklaces. It is the symbol of life. The Hebrew word consists of two (2) letters in the alphabet: Chet (ח) and Yud (י).

“I thought you should have one,” she said, leaning her face close to mine, as she often did when sharing something deeply personal with me.

“But I’m not Jewish,” I said.

She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled,

“But it means life,” her dark brown eyes twinkling.

As I asked her more questions about it, I learned that her deeply religious parents were very surprised by her desire to give me this. And that it was basically only worn by Jews.

In retrospect, I think Michelle was a sort of ambassador. She equated “Chai” with Love, the kind that God has for every person on Earth, and she was sharing His love in a way that seemed perfectly natural to her.

Shiva.com – The Resource for Jewish Mourning explains it this way:

The Symbolic Meaning of Chai

Traditionally, the Jewish religion, similar to many other religions and cultures, place an emphasis on the significance of life. As such, the literal translation of the word “chai” to “life” is meaningful on its face. In addition, individuals who observe Judaism or identify with the religion are generally guided by basic principals which include characteristics such as kindness, thoughtfulness, selflessness and remaining good natured, both morally and ethically during life on Earth. 

I wore that pendant every day for years, and I was very sad when I couldn’t find it this morning to share with you.

Many people, of many faiths, backgrounds, races, creeds, nationalities,  sexual preferences, and so on display the qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, and adhere to moral and ethical codes that celebrate life in all its fullness. But as humans, we are quick to draw lines and boundaries where none need exist.

My first thought on the public reaction to the deaths of 51 people in Orlando was: Where is the empathy?

Social media is usually lit up with cries of prayer and pain for the lives that were lost and the families and friends affected, and yet it seemed comparatively quiet in the last two days. We could blame it on the fact that this happened over a weekend, but I believe it’s because people don’t want to step out of their comfort zones to extend sympathy to a group they don’t understand. We’re hearing lots of words about the hate that fueled the attack, and more calls for gun control, but not enough words of Love.

The LGBT community is reeling in shock and trauma right now, and the beautiful people in it deserve our compassion, concern, and endless prayers for peace.

While we may not always share the same experiences as our neighbors,  every single person alive is called to be an ambassador of Love.

“Chai” means life. It’s a gift that was given freely to all of us. And it is meant to be cherished, honored, and preserved.

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

-Mark 12:31