Big, bad foreigners – who’s afraid of them (and why the hell are we)?

It’s human nature to be skeptical about things that are foreign to us.

Western ears traditionally approach the pentatonic scale as something “foreign,” but it’s not foreign to Eastern ears. A short skirt on a woman is highly offensive to someone in one country, but it’s a staple of one’s closet to another. A spicy curry makes my Indian friends reminisce about their family tables, but my Texas hot sauce made one of my Indian friends grab milk out of my fridge. It’s all relative and, sure, it’s all based on things being “foreign” to us, which is human nature.

What begins as human nature becomes something else entirely when we take it a step further.

The action of legislating, calling names, creating hate groups, or even inciting violence…why do we do it? Why do we take it that far? I think it’s because we are constrained by our own myopic sense of what our world is and we are intimidated by that which we do not know or understand. Our world is not white or black. It is not Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is not East or West. It is not even native or foreigner. Not anymore. It’s global.

Pick any country…I mean, let’s look at the U.S. or Switzerland because both are currently struggling to manage the “foreigners” issue. What’s the real fear? These are spacious countries with majestic lands. Is the fear running out of resources or is the fear running out of “real Americans” or “real Swiss”? Are we really afraid foreigners will take over the United States or Switzerland with their…uh…what exactly? With their…diverse culture, rich history? Yuck. Who wants that? (Me.)

“Foreigners are taking our jobs,” it’s a common complaint. But, is it true? Many foreigners do jobs, in both countries, that “natives” do not want to or are not qualified to do. God willing, that will always be the case. What a shame if the world’s next Rachmaninoff didn’t want to go to the United States because he didn’t feel he was capable of securing a Visa. What a tragedy if the world’s next Einstein decided to stay away from Switzerland because he was concerned about the Quotas.

“Foreigners are bringing religions into this country that are against our country’s true religion.” Really? In general, I am not a huge fan of Leviticus (I actually find it borderline absurd for the most part), but I’ll go ahead and take a stab at interpreting this one…”You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Sorry Jews and Christians, that’s us because it’s in the Torah and the Old Testament. So, if you’re on your high horse about getting the foreigners out, I’m afraid you’ll have to dismount.

Think of it this way, as I’ve learned all too well – we are all foreign to someone. Imagine that some foreigners are not out to get you or your job or your house or your anything. Imagine that some foreigners are in your immediate vicinity to work hard, contribute to society, and be at peace. And, if they really love you, share a good recipe for yellow Thai curry (still hoping).

Seriously, though….maybe, you could help them integrate.

Instead of kicking them in the back.

Nutjobs, nutjobs everywhere

Everyone had an gut reaction to the news about Charlie Hebdo. I thought it was a mistake. It was the same feeling I had when I heard of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. It’s the same feeling I have when I watch Terms of Endearment and Emma dies. “That didn’t really happen, someone made a mistake. Rewind it and listen again.”

Because I live in a parallel universe – things like that don’t actually happen.

These things are horrific (yes, even Emma’s death). Two of them involve evil. My faith in humanity and the goodness of every person makes evil a terrifying topic that I still, to this day, cannot believe is real. My faith is strong and, I promise you, tolerant.

And, I am sick and tired of listening to people tear religion apart. Immediately after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo,  FB posts purported the trite and cliche statement, “I dislike religion.” So, on Saturday, I posted “I think people who say they dislike religion are silly.” It wasn’t the adjective I wanted to use. I wanted to say “ignorant.” Just as you are entitled to tell me you have a blanket dislike of religion, I am entitled to say your words are ignorant. As I asked someone, “how much do you know about Zoroastrianism, for example?” Attended two Bahai ceremonies and just didn’t like the buffet selections? That makes sense.

The same night of this FB exchange, I had dinner with a friend and her husband, who is Pakistani and comes from a Muslim household. Though he is now an atheist, he said, “who am I to say religion is bad or stupid? If someone has cancer and his faith helps him to get out of bed and keep going every day, well, that’s a good thing.” I thought that was one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a discussion about faith. A Catholic Buddhist and a former Muslim now atheist – totally different faith structures, parallel thinking.

And there is parallel thinking with all the terrorists groups. It’s not religion that unites them, it’s a desire, almost a thirst, to commit acts of terrorism. Sure, there are excuses about the men and women who join these terrorist organizations having felt like lepers in their pre-terrorist lives – cast out of society. They felt they didn’t belong and then someone came along and said, “you can have a family with us.” Oh, poor little terrorists didn’t get picked to play Four Square in 4th grade, so let’s kidnap, rape, murder, and humiliate others. How sad. This is age-old, mafioso stuff, but, again, it’s not religion that unites them. It’s a desire to destroy and to kill to attain power – that’s not “religious.” That’s a sickness in the soul.

What is the answer to combat the terrorist groups? Like many, the temptation to limit free speech seems plausible to me, until we remember that free speech really oughten have limitations because then it’s not exactly “free,” is it? Bit like a free ticket to the movies that you can only use to see bile-inducing Twilight movies. Also using violence to combat violence didn’t seem to work out well in most cases (“An eye for an eye will make the world go blind” Gandhi’s pointed that out a bit more eloquently). The truly important thing to remember about eradicating terrorism is…that we cannot.

There will always be nutjobs. Some of them are violent with weapons and some of them are violent with words. These people will always find each other (just look at Congress). I’ve found, there is one solution to this problem that will work. It will work if your life is in danger, it will work if someone you love is killed. It will work when your country is attacked, it will work when your country is attacking.

It goes like this:

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

It is the hidden verse of Amazing Grace. It says that we have done our best, we were committed to sucking the marrow out of life, and we used our lives to spread principles like tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. We take our lives not for granted, but for the gift that they were at birth and can be until we die. And there are those unique cases, like those who worked in the office at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, whose lives are gifts even after they die.

Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.

Allerheiligen & Allerseelen – All Saints and All Souls day

“In honor of the saints – known and unknown.”

Rarely does a person reach his or her 21st birthday without experiencing the death of a (be)loved one. So, we all have common ground there.

How we express our loss is such a private choice. It seems to me, having seen people that did not express their loss and watching that downward spiral, the only important part of “how” is “that we do it.”

There are many solutions in the diverse forms: memorial service, Requiem, Shiva, Día de los Muertos, Janazah prayer, mourning flags, black clothing, white clothing, covered mirrors. Buddhists believe both how deeply and how long we mourn can be based on the “tie with the person.” I love that.

There is a difference between the sister holidays of All Saints and All Souls day. Traditionally, All Saints day was meant to honor those who died and were assured of eternal salvation. All Souls day was meant to honor those who were unbaptized and thus…well…destination unknown. This is the 2-part version of what some celebrate as a 3-day observance called “All Hallowtide.”

Being the devout Catholic I am, I can say clearly: I don’t like it. It’s a very man-made distinction and I don’t like those. I prefer to view things the way I’d hope our ever-loving God would. Do I imagine God making such a distinction?

No.

Allerheiligen is a big deal in Switzerland. Truly. The cemeteries and church are packed. The heads are not all grey, white, bald, or salt/pepper – there are younger people in both spaces. The presence of all ages reinforces what we’ve all learned consciously or subconsciously by age 21…

this life is temporary

 One way I’ve learned to express loss is beautiful. My church in Luzern makes Easter candles. Somewhere along the line, someone told me he burned his Easter candle the week before Allerheiligen and put it on the grave of his mother (it wasn’t L).Easter Candle on Allerheiligen

(This is what I do every year. It is how I have chosen to express loss.)

Candles cover the graves on Allerheiligen. As the sun begins to set, the people put candles on the graves of people they love and remember. I, too, have been honored to decorate the grave of a beloved member of my extended Luzern family (http://wp.me/p2dSt7-hA). I am at her grave often and I notice other people in mourning. I’ve noticed this expression of loss comes without as many tears being dropped on the graves we keep in memorium. Allerheiligen comes without quite as much pain.

It doesn’t always have to be painful, does it? Remember our loved ones can serve to renew the bond we had with them, instead of tearing open healed wounds.

Next year, on the 1st of November, remember your loved ones. If you are not near them, find a simple tree, light a few candles, say prayers/sing a song/read a poem. That’s what All Saints and All Souls day really mean.

We did not forget you, we remember your time here among us, and we honor you.

All Saints day