Those who read us regularly know that we rarely get into the political arena. We prefer to keep our focus on providing inner spiritual enrichment to help you master the art of living as you walk the spiritual path on practical feet. But we heard something this week that cannot be ignored. The Arizona Legislature has passed a controversial bill that allows business owners — as long as they assert their religious beliefs — to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. The bill, which the state House of Representatives passed by a 33-27 vote on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, now goes before the Governor for her signature or veto.
When we heard that newscast last week, we thought, “Really? Really?! This is 21st century America. Haven’t we outgrown that kind of immoral stain? Are we still fixated on that kind of segregation?”
Then we thought of the court’s ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson, way back in 1896, that upheld laws enforcing segregation in railway car accommodations on the proviso that the facilities were of ‘equal quality.’ This decision became known as the separate but equal principle — the cornerstone of Jim Crow laws.
It’s no surprise to us now that the facilities were usually far from equal. For example, restrooms for people of color were generally unkept and filthy. And entrances to public facilities for people of color were usually, if not always, in the rear of the store or the alley. When motorized buses were introduced in the 1920s, seats for people of color were restricted to the back rows where the stink of exhaust fumes added insult to injury.
By 1915, all Southern states had some form of Jim Crow laws. People of color could not eat in the same restaurants, drink out of the same water fountains, watch movies in the same theaters, play in the same parks, or go to the same schools as whites. Inhuman, immoral, inhumane, absurd, and unconscionable, to say the least. Don’t you think?
A black man could not shake hands with a white man. And he certainly couldn’t make eye-contact with a white woman or else he would be accused of a sexual advance. People of color would have to step off the sidewalk to allow a white person to walk past them on the sidewalk. Disrespectful, barbaric, cruel, diabolical, and fiendish are descriptions that come to mind.
If you follow our blogs you know how we feel about any kind of hurtful and heartless behavior between people, especially sexist and racist behavior. We believe people — all people — are the human expressions of the Eternal Presence. Whenever we show disrespect for any person we show disrespect for the Eternal Presence called God.
When we heard about the Arizona ruling, our hearts went out to all of those people throughout many eras of humankind’s volatile history who have been discriminated against, falsely accused, tortured, and killed because of the color of their skin, disability, religious affiliation, lifestyle preference, spiritual orientation, and so on. We thought about how horrifically Native Americans were treated in their homeland; we recalled how unconscionably Japanese Americans were dealt with during World War II.
We couldn’t help but be reminded of Boston’s Quincy Market. There’s a moving and dramatic holocaust memorial that pulls at your heart strings. It’s constructed of six square pillars, one for each concentration camp. Each stands 25 feet high. Each pillar is hollow and clear — like a see-through chimney. Each is placed above something that looks like a grate. In cold weather there’s the appearance of steam or smoke rising up and out of the pillars. Inscribed on five of the pillars are stories of the cruelty of the concentration camps.
The sixth pillar presents a story about a little girl named Ilsa, a childhood friend of Guerda Wiesmann Kline. Ilsa, who was 6 years old at the time, found a single raspberry near one of the gates in the compound at Auschwitz one morning.
Ilse carried it all day long in a protected place in one of her pockets. That evening, with her face beaming, she presented the raspberry on a leaf to her 8-year-old friend Guerda, who wasn’t feeling very well.
“Imagine a world,” writes Guerda 50 years later, “in which the only prized possession you have is a single raspberry and then you give it to your friend. I will always remember the sweet look on her face when she gave me the raspberry.”
Imagine what that dear little girl was thinking when she found that raspberry in that godforsaken camp. There was no doubt she hadn’t tasted anything sweet in a long, long time. She probably wondered if she would ever have a chance to taste something sweet again. She had found sweetness in sorrow, a moment of happiness in a world of darkness.
At one end of the plaza there is a large monolith inscribed with the thoughts of a minister, Martin Niemoeller, who speaks for us all, if we honor our divine nature and the divinity in others. The quote serves as a reminder that silence in the face of another’s oppression is not in our own best interests, and invites us to think about our own prejudices:
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
We’ve added another line to Martin’s ‘quote of conscience’ because we cannot be silent:
They came for same sex couples and people of gay and lesbian orientations,
and although we are not in these categories,
we must speak up so the lunacy will stop!
We send the energy of Divine Understanding, Wisdom, and Love into the world, affirming a peace that passes all misunderstanding.