Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Letting the Light In: An Advent Reflection

On Monday, I posted on Facebook a comment that got some attention from my friends, including a few tearful hugs.

Driving up Lake Ave, waiting for a pedestrian to cross at Elizabeth St. Two 9yo-ish Boys on scooters racing downhill. One sees me and yells out "Ching Chong", darting away, laughing.
I am tired of being told "to get over it". Raise your kids right.

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by this rude shred of racism. I was coming back from stopping by a store where I was looking at stocking stuffers for my nieces and nephews. The store and my heart were in a Christmas spirit. And I had been marinating in the Advent spirit of waiting penitentially for the hope and Good made incarnate with the coming of the baby Jesus. I was also getting a last-minute item needed to roast a turkey the next day for the Homeless Memorial and Dinner at All Saints Episcopal of Pasadena. And the prior night, I sang with my choir at the beautiful Lessons and Carols evensong service. Needless to say, I was in positive mood.

And then these two boys shook up my Monday.

My last sentence in that post seemed to imply that I had problems with the kids themselves. I didn't mean to do so. I was upset with the parents and other adults in those children's lives who taught or at least enabled the children to say such a pointless, mean remark. The comment was directed not towards the kids but towards us adults.

You see, this wasn't an isolated incident. If this incident happened for the first time in the last decade, I'd be shocked and I'd be glad it was over. Like some freakish accident, I don't expect it to happen again soon. But it's not unusual. It happens to me now, and it's happened to me in the past, and while I'm alive I'll probably have it happen again. Good grief, I can tell you about the fear that coursed through me when I was chased by pipe-wielding guys in gay West Hollywood.

Admittedly, it's not common to me, and for that I'm thankful. It's not common, but it's not unusual. Comments or actions that are based on racism come to me several times a year. And I'm one of the lucky ones because we all know people who experience racism on a daily basis. Well, those of us who have friends or acquaintances who are not in the ethnic majority for their area know such people; a surprising number of people live in segregated enclaves, intentionally or not, where they simply have no opportunity to be in relationship with a minority.

That's not to say that ethnic minorities don't mistreat each other. There's no doubt that there can be as much racism directed from one minority onto another. But racism isn't just a dislike for a minority. It's coupled with power.  So a person of one minority disparaging a person of a different minority class doesn't harm the person as much as a person of the majority, a person with power. Now, a child who calls out names like I experienced typically has no power, but that child represents and is the product of someone who does.  Whether children or adult, these acts are enabled by a society that stays silent about the hurt sustained from the malice. We must dis-enable all who diminish our mutual humanity.

In the past, I've been told "get over it". Well no. No, I won't.

This blog post is a step to "not get over it", to not let it slide, but to call it out publicly. I want to let the light in and shine it on this sickness.

This was NOT an isolated incident. It happens here, in "tolerant" California like elsewhere. I haven't shared these stories in the past, but they happen, and I am just one of the many who experiences unacceptable behavior.

The boys said "Ching Chong". In the past, people have spat out at me "faggot", "chink", "go back to your own country", and "old fat fag"

There have been heroes to help me when these happened. And there are those who turned away.

I am grateful for everyone's words of love and support this past week. I also think that what I experienced was not just youthful indiscretion. I don't think it's just a sign of these political times. I don't feel it's unique to me, to this year, to this location. I don't feel that I'm the only person who experiences this.

I weep when I know this is happening to others. I weep knowing it happens more often and with more physically painful ramifications to others. And I weep when this story surprises my friends. We all suffer, those oppressed AND those who oppress, when these aggressions and microagressions happen. All of us in the human family are diminished.

I have faith that the arc of history bends toward justice. But all of us must speak like the prophets and call out the injustices not just in our lives but in the daily lives of all around us. And all of us must follow and be the shepherd who cares for the fallen, the hurt, the pained.

This country and the world should be bigger than this incident. I pray for it. I dream of it. I want to share my stories so we know what we face.

And while I'm at it, I'd like to bring up one more point. I know of too many friends who defensively make self-directed jokes. "Oh I'm Asian and we ARE the worst drivers" for example. It's considered acceptable for a minority to call others in their community by slurs. I know I've done it, as a Filipino, as an immigrant, as a Pacific-Islander, as an Asian, as a gay person, as a guy, as a geek. It's an easy laugh that we can share with each other, a laugh that is not permissible by those who are not of that same class.

I wonder how hurtful it is that this continues, as we perpetuate stereotypes in such jokes. It's really incorporating the hurtful stereotypes into our own community. The behavior can mask a self-hate. In the gay community, it can mask (or perhaps reveal) internalized homophobia.

None of this is holy. Holy is lifting up, not casting down. We don't have to step on each other to bind ourselves to each other. We don't have to step on minorities to build ourselves up.

We can heal this sickness, this sin. To do so, we have to face the illness, or at least face the fears that prevent us from healing. I recently had a colonoscopy where I (finally) confronted a fear of cancer by actually getting a checkup. I remember that same fear when decades ago I went finally for an HIV test. Those fears impair our ability to heal, but we must accept that we can't begin to heal without first facing the realities of the disease.

Every day we forget who we are, forget that we are made in the image of God, forget what life without fear is, forget what love means. I won't get over this unless by getting over it we mean let's heal. Let's remember. Let's love.

So let's use this time to remember. We can remember who we are and what life and love mean. We can pray in this time of Advent for a future that's filled with love and hope, for a chance to heal what was broken, for a promise to end the sickness of sin.

I heard a sermon recently that pointed out that you can have two rooms, one in light and one in darkness. Open the door between them, and the light pours out of the light-filled room into the dark room. And the light-filled room doesn't look any dimmer. It's still just as light. But the dark room is transformed, with almost as brilliant a light as the adjoining room.

As I pondered that sermon, it struck me that you could have countless rooms of darkness, all connected to that light-filled room. We can open the doors to each and every room and they will immediately fill with light. And the room with light itself does not go dim.

Christmas is coming. We await the Light to fill our darkness. May His promise of hope and salvation be shared with all.

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