Sunday, December 16, 2007
fortunate to feel the real meaning of this season within me. It's a
time when the weapons and politics should be put aside and like the
Whos in Whoville, we should stand side by side sharing in the joy of
living in this most amazing place, planet and universe. We've been
given a gift, by who it was given depends on your religious beliefs,
but it is here and it is now. Whether we choose to throw this precious
life away by only hating and keeping ourselves separated by trivial
differences, or whether we can join together in the spirit of love is
up to us.
This last week has made it difficult to enjoy the season. Three Jewish men
were beaten in New York for simply replying to someones offer of a
"Merry Christmas" with their own "Happy Hannakuh". In the same week
our congress passed a resolution to "protect" Christmas as a Christian
tradition, more important than any other traditions followed by the
citizens of our country. It seems that Americans are growing further
and further apart. But maybe we can borrow some of the old traditions,
just for a couple weeks. Pagans believed that mistletoe had the power
to bring "Peace and Joy" and so enemies meeting under the mistletoe had
to call a truce until the following day. In Finland and Sweden the old
tradition of the 12 days of Christmas prevail, and any crime committed
during this time receives a stiffer sentence than is usual. So maybe
we need to have some resolutions to this effect so that Americans can
have at least 12 days of the year when we practice kindness and
As I was getting more disillusioned about my countrymen, I came across a book call The Christmas Menorah, How a Town Fought Hate.
This children's book is based on a true story of just how courageous
and caring Americans can be. In 1993 a Jewish family in Billings
Montana placed menorahs in their windows. One night a brick came
crashing through their son's window but fortunately he wasn't in the
room at the time. The entire town rallied behind the family. Before
they new it, there were menorahs in all their neighbors windows, right
next to the Christmas trees. The local Christian clergy added their
support without hesitation. There was at first an increase in hate
crimes, including the destruction of the school's window which
displayed a large menorah in support of the family. But eventually
this community won out and the hate crimes disappeared. It brought
tears of inspiration to read that there are still communities like this
in my own country.
In honor of the brave people that have stood next to those minorities that
have been persecuted for their differences, Alexa and I will add the
menorah to our traditions. A couple of my Sunday school students are
in homes with both a Christian and a Jewish parent so I've been
learning a lot about how these two traditions can be mixed to deepen
the meaning of this holiday.
Below my signature is an interview with the author of the book (which is now also a play). This book will itself become a tradition for my daughter and me every
holiday and I would encourage any of you working with children to add
it to your repertoire so that maybe the next generation will be able to
enjoy our diversity rather than use it as a way to hurt each other.
We wish you all Peace, Love and Joy this holiday season, no matter what your tradition!
From Terri and Alexa
The Town That Fought Hatred
A true story about an American town has become a play that teaches children about goodness and courage.
By Janice I. Cohn
"On December 2, 1993, someone twisted by hate threw a brick through the
window of the home of one of our neighbors: a Jewish family who chose
to celebrate the holiday season by displaying a symbol of faith-a
menorah-for all to see. Today, members of religious faiths throughout
Billings are joining together to ask residents to display the menorah
as a symbol of something else: our determination to live together in
harmony, and our dedication to the principle of religious liberty
embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States of America. We urge all citizens to share in this message by
displaying this menorah on a door or a window from now until Christmas.
Let all the world know that the national hatred of a few cannot destroy
what all of us in Billings, and in America, have worked together so
long to build."
--Editorial, Billings Gazette, Dec. 1993
In a world filled with fear, how can young people learn courage? In a
world filled with violence, how can young people learn peaceful
solutions? In a world filled with religious and racial division, how
can young people learn unity and cooperation?
Children learn in many ways: sometimes by example, sometimes by the power of a
compelling story, and sometimes by the realization that human beings
can be capable of extraordinary acts of courage and goodness.
All three elements came together in Billings, Montana, during the holiday season of 1993.
No one knew why it started, but 12 years ago the town of Billings began to
be infiltrated by skinheads and members of racist groups. The tiny
minority of Jews, African Americans, and mixed-race families who lived
there were immediately targeted for acts of hate. Though the vast
majority of residents were white and Christian, they chose to take a
principled stand based upon their conviction that an act of hate toward
one citizen was an act of hate toward all. Many individuals and groups
rose up to respond. For example, the Billings Painters Union offered to
repaint for free any houses or businesses that had been spray painted
with racial or religious epithets. And members of churches with
predominantly white congregations came to the African Methodist
Episcopal Church to pray with black neighbors when menacing skinheads
began to show up at church services.
But then, as the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah approached, Jews became a special
target. Windows in Jewish homes displaying Hanukkah menorahs began to
be smashed. Jewish families were advised to remove their menorahs until
the perpetrators were caught, but they resisted. And so menorahs
continued to be displayed and windows continued to be smashed.
Ultimately, in a show of solidarity and support, tens of thousands of
Billings residents displayed paper menorahs in their windows.
What gives people the courage to fight against hatred and the wisdom to
understand just how important that fight is? What causes some
communities to come together when faced with acts of bigotry and
violence, while other communities split apart? In Billings, it was a
combination of factors including:
* A family, victimized by bigots, who spoke out eloquently and refused to be intimidated.
* A police chief who understood the
seriousness of hate crimes and was determined that they would not be tolerated under any circumstances.
*A lay church leader who remembered a story she had heard as a child,
about how Christians in Denmark led had stood against the Nazis to help
Jews in 1943, and used that event to help inspire her community.
* Clergy of all faiths who were committed to genuinely practicing what they preached.
*A newspaper that investigated and published the truth about local hate
crimes and then used its editorial pages to urge the community to take
a stand on principle.
* Town residents who were willing to learn from history and be guided by their own conscience and religious faith.
Along with many other people, I was deeply moved by these events 12 years
ago. As a practicing psychotherapist specializing in loss and life
transitions, I'd witnessed the power of courage and goodness firsthand.
I'd seen how those traits could enable individuals to surmount life's
greatest challenges. But here was an entire community acting together
on the highest principle of loving your neighbor as yourself. How did
this happen, and what could we all learn from the events in Billings?
My desire--indeed, my compulsion--to know more drew me to interview the
people in Billings and resulted in my children's book, "The Christmas
Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate," published in 1994. Since that time,
in schools, churches and synagogues, I've spoken to thousands of
children about what happened in Billings and have seen how they've been
affected and inspired by this story.
Now more than ever, it's crucial that children learn true stories of courage and goodness. That
is the best, perhaps the only real antidote that we can offer them in
dangerous, unpredictable times.
I clearly remember discussions I had with youngsters in Billings in early 1994. Even in the early
elementary school grades, they were all aware of what had happened in
their community. "You just have to show people that you care," one
fourth grader explained to me. "If you don't stand up to bullies,
they'll just keep pushing you around," a fifth-grader stated flatly.
"We were scared," said another child, "but my dad, he said it was the
right thing to do."
The lessons of Billings can be taught in many ways. Sometimes heroism
consists of simply doing the right thing and setting an example by
one's everyday actions. When children see their parents, and other
adults, helping others, standing up for a belief and actively working
to improve their communities, it makes an impact - perhaps more than
In fact, research studies focusing on people
who have shown extraordinary courage, such as the "Righteous
Christians" who risked their lives to rescue victims of the Nazis, and
civil rights leaders who fought segregation in the South, concluded
that many of these individuals were greatly influenced by the quiet,
everyday acts of kindness and goodness they observed on the part of
their parents, teachers, and neighbors.
Research emphasizes that it is essential for the adults in children's lives to
explicitly and strongly condemn acts of hatred, violence and bullying.
When parents and other adults fail to do this, children can
misinterpret their silence as agreeing with or condoning these acts,
says Dr. Ervin Staub, a prominent researcher at the University of
Massachusetts, who has conducted several studies in this area. "They
may assume," he says, "that their parents do not think such acts are
morally wrong. Even more troubling, they may come to the conclusion
that this is simply the way people operate and that evil, and a lack of
resistance to evil, is the norm in this world."
Hatred, intolerance and compliance with evil need not be the norm-that is the
enduring legacy of Billings. "We must constantly remind ourselves and
our children that what we become depends on what we believe," the Rev.
Robert Massie, formerly of Harvard Divinity School, points out in my
book, "Raising Compassionate, Courageous Children in a Violent World."
"If we believe the problems in this world can't be solved, the chances
are they won't be. If we believe that we can make a difference, then
that belief begins to come true, too. The amazing thing is that it
doesn't take very many people to believe in change, for changes to be
"Think what our country would be like if families sat down and talked together
about how our immediate communities could be better, and what we each
could do to make that happen. If every parent asked their children,
`What do you think we should be doing as a family to make our
neighborhood better?' they would get ideas back. The more people
actually talk about what kind of community they want to live in, and
the more they visualize it and see what it might be like, the more
likely it is to come true."
On Dec. 2, 2005, 12 years to the
day when a cinderblock came crashing through young Isaac Schnitzer's
bedroom window because it displayed a menorah, I returned to Billings
for a very special event-the theatrical premiere of my children's play,
"Paper Candles: How Courage and Goodness Triumphed in an American
Town," which is based on "The Christmas Menorahs." For me, the play is
a natural outgrowth of my book, giving young people the
opportunity--through the dramatic process--to actually be a part of the
acts of courage and goodness that occurred in Billings. This is
important, because research indicates that children who are exposed to,
and participate in such acts, are much more likely to want to emulate
them in their own lives.
I wrote the play to be performed by children in upper elementary and
middle school, and it has been performed and discussed in classrooms
across the country. Afterwards, kids always share their feelings about
the events and the main characters. They often go on to talk about what
they could do to deal with bullies and bigots in their own lives, and
in their own community. As one child in Montclair, N.J., said to me,
"The important thing is not to give in...the important thing is not to
In Billings that night after the play, a resident told me, "It's still a
little hard to grasp that we were starting a movement. We just wanted
to do the right thing."
A fifth-grader in the cast had known very little about the 1993 events until she did the play. "It was nice to find out about everything that happened. I started asking my parents
questions, and I didn't even know that they put up a menorah. I wish
they had told me that. I think it would have given me courage.now with
the play, I'm going to try to be a better person."
Perhaps we all will, as the result of the actions of one American town. As Rev.
Massie says, "If we believe that we can make a difference, then that
belief begins to come true."
Friday, December 7, 2007
There are so many emotions surrounding the concept of innocence captured and floating in these jars. I couldn't help but wonder if they were the wanted or the unwanted, the loved or the hated. The pro-life advocates would insist that each of these jars were lost potential, worth more by far than the female host that carried them. And yet, when an unloved and unwanted child misbehaves or ends up in juvenile hall, these same prudent judges turn their vicious eyes of blame again to that woman. She is not only to carry the child to term, but then expected to bond with it and love it more than life itself. But the reality is that the female animal, human or otherwise, that is living under duress will not love it's offspring, but will abandon it. In nature a stressed mother will even eat her newborns. We suspect it's because she is herself starving, but maybe she is attempting to end their suffering the quickest way possible. But when a human mother is starving or scared she finds a toilet, dumpster or slave trader to rid herself of the unloved child. Or worse yet, she turns on the child and inflicts her own pain in very physical ways. Which animal is more compassionate?
Pro-lifers want to force life, no matter its level of suffering, on every human. If one is on life support they refuse to terminate it. You can beg for mercy but the pro-lifer will insist that you endure your evil fate. I used to watch the pro-life demonstrators at an abortion clinic in Florida and I noticed that they were always women and none of their faces looked like it had felt the grace of a smile in centuries. They were hard, angry women who seemed hell bent on punishing any woman that thought she might cheat God's punishment of Eve. I felt pity for them and anger at the same time. I recognized these women. It was the same face I'd seen in my childhood. My Mother.
My Mom is pro-life. One day in an argument she told me how I'd ruined her life. Years later as we talked about abortion she told me that I was "lucky she wasn't pro-choice". Hmmm. Lucky. How lucky was I to be reminded throughout my life that I was the unwanted, the unloved? I contemplated suicide from the time I was seven years old. Until I left home I didn't know that life could be good and full of joy. But I survived, and I found that there were better ways to live, joyful ways. But if it would have brought a better life to her, I'd have gladly given my life in a quick and painless abortion. It wasn't my choice, it was hers.
One day I will look into the beautiful, loving, blue eyes of my daughter and I will proudly say to her, "you're so lucky that I'm pro-choice" because I've loved you since the moment I felt your gentle spirit move with mine.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Recently a co-worker and I were chatting and I mentioned something about church. Much of my social life revolves around my church so it's hard to talk about what I'm doing without the "C" work coming up. This co-worker confessed to me that she was reluctant to approach me on the subject because she feared I was one of those "Bible thumpers" ready to bash her with my little black book at the first chance. I chuckled and told her that wouldn't happen since I don't even believe in God much less any of the hateful writings in that little black book. As far as I'm concerned that book is political propaganda from the darkest days of human evolution that continues to shadow and demean our existence. Then I told her I'm Unitarian Universalist, a liberal faith based on shared principles not theology. Turns out my co-worker is part of the communist party from China, so an insightful sharing of ideas followed.
I came across this video this morning that is a beautiful testimony to who UUs are and what we believe in. It's easy in these times to become frustrated with one's faith, but I find this tradition helps one to feel like an active participant rather than a passive victim in what's happening in the world. We know we're doing our best to make this a better place for everyone to live and we're teaching our children to aspire to the highest human potentials of peace and love.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Now enter the age of corporate owned "free public" libraries. Just recently an Oregon library in Jackson County closed, losing over 35% of its funding this year. The local residents did not vote in a new levy (after the government cut funding) to keep their library open. You can read the Forbes story to catch up on the details.
As more communities ponder outsourcing, many of us are sounding alarms. It's no secret that libraries have been a thorn in our governments side regarding censorship and even more so with the enactment of The Patriot Act. Is this the subtle plan to begin reeling libraries into the net of corporate control that dominates news casts like those on Fox? It brings up many frightening scenarios. What is the future of free public access to information? Or are libraries going to become just one more outlet for Amazon? When it's your community library up for sale, I hope you'll think about these hard questions.
I have no more time to scribble on this now, but I will certainly watch this carefully and report what I see - without corporate influence on my words.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
If logisticaly possible I take Amtrak up, use a taxi to the hotel and then the hotel shuttle back to the train station. It's longer than driving, but easier on the nerves and the environment.
After spending two days will my fellow student librarians I felt energized and refreshed. The cohort is progressive, diverse, and dedicated to life-long learning. Not unlike the attitudes generally encountered in the Pacific NorthWest. Sometimes it's easy to forget there are other people out there that don't see things so clearly. Segue to my shuttle back to the train terminal.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Our country has endured many generations of this type of child raising. As a result we have some of the highest rates of incarceration, drug use, poverty, single parent families, child abuse, domestic abuse - you name it, America has it in spades. I know that many people out there want to blame the liberals, the blacks, the Hispanics, the Latinos, the gays, the lesbians, the cats, and the dogs. But the simple fact is that we made this mess ourselves by adhering to a philosophy that puts money ahead of all else. Why do so many kids not have health care? Because we've allowed corporations to take over our health. Why are kids in daycares for 9 and 10 hours a day? Because single parents have to work, spending up to half their wages on the daycare. Why are our children suffering from depression and becoming overweight? Because they live in a world that doesn't see them, where they are left prey to advertising that tells them what they need to be happy and fast food in their schools that pumps them full of sugars and fats. And if a family can't make it? If a child is abused? If a child is neglected? Then it was obviously the mother's fault - or the father if he's still around.
My childhood sucked! I survived sexual, physical, mental and drug abuse. It's taken me decades to become whole again. What's worse is knowing my story isn't the unusual one. 1 in 4 women in America are sexually molested by a family member, primarily fathers and stepfathers, by the age of 18. I refuse to stand by and watch other children endure what I did. I now have a 3 year old daughter and I teach Sunday School at my UU church. As a teacher I've discovered the music and philosophies of Raffi. He's recently introduced his idea of "child honouring". And what a great idea! Instead of honoring adults (not including our sage seniors) we honor the youngest of our society. If we adopt his ideas fewer children would endure what I did and the planet would begin to heal.
What an extraordinary idea - to "organize society around the needs of its youngest members". This requires we treat our children like the creative and amazing beings that they are. It would change our habits at the core. It insists that we have affordable and well-trained child care facilities. It requires that our child care workers be paid in accordance to the vital role they play in our society. It suggests that we learn to live sustainably, detoxifying our environment for the health of our young. Raffi discusses his ideas eloquently and fully at his website.
I encourage all those with dedication to healing our lives and our planet to visit Raffi's site and covenant with us to honor our children.
I'll also be thinking of my favorite songwriter/singer, Melissa Etheridge and her bravery as she's come out to her public, shared her pains and joys, showed the world the heights of lesbian parenthood and the hurt when a relationship ends, and then appearing bald headed at the Grammy's to belt out the music of Janis Joplin with more passion than I've ever heard it before. And now, Melissa continues to invite us on her journey through her tremendous songwriting ability. As I teach my class tomorrow, know that I'm with all my sisters as they race for the cure.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Monday, September 3, 2007
Frank, in his eighties, was full of energy and compassion for the people around him. He and his wife were in our group. They were "in love". This was not the first marriage for either, but it was THE marriage of a lifetime. And their love extended well beyond the boundaries of their lives together. They were active in the church, which involves being active in the community and the world. His sense of humor and his smile would put you at ease, and immediately infect you with just such a smile. The same holds true for Ellen.
My thoughts are with her tonight. As I've enjoyed my Labor Day Holiday, celebrating with new friends, my thoughts have been with Ellen and my covenant group. I feel an emptiness knowing he's no longer here, yet I know Ellen's empty place must be so much more. I'll light a candle for her this Sunday and send her my love. I'll always cherish the kind words and stories that they shared with me.
Thank you Frank, you are well loved and remembered.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I've always found Mother Teresa an interesting figure. She worked tirelessly for the less forutunate, a true bodhisattva. I'm always stuggling to find some usefulness in Christianity, and she's been one of the few positive influences I've found (Martin Luther King Jr is another). At least her initial intentions were good. Her celebrity may have brought some difficulties for her regarding the management of charitable contributions, and I disagree with her stands on abortion and divorce, but I think most must admit her work for the world's hungry eclipses these indiscretions. And now we have the opportunity to read the intimate thoughts of this woman. Over the last 50 years of her life she struggled with her faith - wondering why God and Jesus ("the absent one") were missing. She felt the isolation and silence of this vast universe and questioned the existence of the Christian God.
I look forward to reading the words of this compassionate woman. I'm paticularly interested in how she was able to look into the eyes of suffering and death day after day and never seem to wear out or give up on humanity. Most of us can only handle a few weeks before we must retreat into our happier existence away from it all. Maybe it was because of this, seeing how no God was there to help those who needed it most, realizing that only people can help people, that she began to question her faith.
Maybe her secret testimonies will help enlighten more people to work for peace, and to end much of the needless suffering on this planet. Maybe this will be her true legacy.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
As I flipped through the channels on my Zen player, searching for NPR, I landed on a local Christain channel (not that these people have any right to claim Christ as their teacher). What I heard was a "report" on the "situation" on the Gaza strip where "Christians" are being forcibly converted to Islam (wait a minute - aren't they both the same God - or is Allah God's evil twin brother?). But regardless of conflicting dogma between these two radical sects, innocent human lives are being sacraficed. The facts are that Isreal is an illegal occupier of Palestine. For 40 years the people of Palestine have watched their homes and farms bulldozed (with them inside if they failed to comply). They've lost their ability to work, or even visit their family in the neighboring village due to checkpoints. The Isreali's have dissected this land into a bloody jigsaw puzzle (and I mean bloody in a literal sense). And they've done it with American tanks, planes and bombs.
The most ironic bit is that the group sponsoring this terrorism by Isreal is the American Center for Law and Justice. I laughed at their title, since there is no truth to any of it. They do not represent my American truth. They certainly don't work for justice for human life and dignity. And I have no idea who's law they're enforcing. Didn't Jesus say to love your enemies? But then their God is a genocidal, insecure, childish ruler (much like the American President) so I guess it's his Old Testament rules they intend to enforce. I have to laugh and be cynical, or I'd cry. This really could be Heaven on Earth if only it we didn't have the Jews, Muslims and Christians to contend with. I often wonder what the world would've been like if that first gathering of Jewish leaders had created a loving and peaceful God instead of this violent one. But then they wanted to rule the world so what good would that be. And with the help of ignorant Americans it looks like they will.
I heard a woman call in, saying how her visit to Bethlehem had really "brought the Bible to life" for her and that she'd felt completely safe her entire trip. She then followed saying we should give the Isreali's more money. Yikes. Does this woman regularly condemn her neighbors to a life of terror? Does she have no compasion for the Palestinian child, mother, brother or father? It makes me wonder if Christians are really human at all? She probably would've been a slave holder in the good 'ol days, whipping them regularly for daring to be born with dark skin. She is human, just deluded and ignorant but unfortunately not stupid or poor. In one sentence this woman is saying how great it was to be near the place her saviour, Jesus, was born and in the next she says it's okay to lay waste to her "enemies", the same ones Jesus instructed her to love (as if she was ever harmed by a Palestinian). So I guess I know now who her Jesus would bomb. She would have been one of the blind Germans spitting on the Jews as they made their way to the ghettos. And maybe it's that Holocaust guilt that allows her to overlook the suffering and genocide of the Palestinians.
U.S Derails the Middle East Road Map
Saturday, August 11, 2007
This is a quote from Maude, a character in the movie Harold and Maude. Ruth Gordon played her in 1971. I was recently reminded of how much I enjoy this movie. A previous love introduced me to this movie and I'm grateful. Maude has many quips to share on just how precious life is and what a waste it is to let it slip through our fingers.
I've been so fortunate in my adult life - I've seen so much, done even more - I've experienced life with all my senses just as Maude would say I should. I guess that's part of why I fight for justice, I want everyone to have the opportunity to be a daisy, unique in a field of daisies. If only everyone cherished life like Maude.
Cat Stevens did the sound track for that movie, and I found myself wondering what Yusuf Islam has been up to. Did he still have the passion for music, and a spirit for peace? I found this video on YouTube which answered my question. It's from the 2006 Nobel celebration.