Friday, November 17, 2017

What Are We Becoming?

This is what broke me this morning.
This image was posted on the Instagram account of The Ellen Show with the text, "I’m determined to do something about this. Please repost it. Use #BeKindToElephants, and for everyone who does, we’ll make a donation to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust."
A couple of days ago, US President Trump announced his intention of rescinding the ban on importing parts of African elephants killed by sport hunters -- basically, allowing them to bring their hunting trophies home with them to hang in their dens. One of these hunters happens to be his son, Donald Jr.
What are we doing? What are we becoming? How much worse is everything going to get?

About once a week now, I say to my husband, "I can't people anymore, I just can't." It's getting harder and harder to watch the news -- I don't believe in saying, "I don't watch the news, it's too depressing," but it leaves me feeling frustrated and demoralized rather than informed and motivated.
I've been writing church messages about "being the light of the world" and it's been a struggle. This great and long-overdue turning point we've reached in hearing women's voices, in women feeling brave enough to speak out about how they are treated and have been treated has been a terrible and wonderful thing. I'm grateful that the flood of accusations and the conversations that have resulted are one big spotlight coming out of all those brave little lights who spoke out.
I wrote and delivered a sermon specifically about sexual harassment, the treatment of women and the church's role in establishing and perpetuating it. And now I'm referring to these stories in my sermons about being the light in the world. It's been emotionally draining because as a woman, as a writer and as a 'preacher', I can't ignore those voices, those stories.

Yet there is still a sexual predator in the White House, and now he wants to roll back protections for endangered animals (which now includes lions) by claiming it will help conservation efforts:
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 US per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates." (CBC News story)

This is personal to me. Elephants are one of the symbols of my writing. Years ago, when I was overwhelmed by the major rewrite of a book, a friend advised me, "It's like eating an elephant - one bit at time." It's a horrible analogy -- perhaps I can change it to, "It's like bathing an elephant -- just one inch at a time" -- but regardless, elephants became part of my life as a writer. My husband went out an bought me an elephant ornament that sat on my desk as a talisman, and since then, my collection of elephants has grown. A whole shelf on my book nook is devoted to my elephant collection.

Even before that, I'd read wonderful books about elephants enduring, even overcoming, the treatment they experience at the hands of certain kinds of people. I loved what I was learning about them, about their matriarchal society, and their intelligence and individual personalities. Like horses, they learn to work and live with humans.   

I even wrote about elephants in my Field Notes book, in the essay, "Good Vibrations". Here is just a brief excerpt, and I encourage you to read the entire essay (it's one of my favourites):
We do not remain untouched by the passing of a person, whether we know them or not. It is part of our human existence to mourn, to feel another's suffering, to share stories, and celebrate a life...This is why, as I sat at my desk staring at my monitor and waiting for the right words, I thought about elephants.... Intelligent and social creatures, elephants mourn  the same way humans do: with emotion and ritual. Those who study and work with elephants have witnessed familiar expressions of grief: elephants appear to cry and bury their dead...

Women can fight for themselves, and they are. That is changing, there is no turning back. But elephants and lions? How I wish they could band together and fight back. What we need is a good old fashioned stampede. Trump is turning conversation back, and it affects me, it affects us, it changes our world -- and not for the better. We are back-sliding and that's so very frustrating and demoralizing. What are we becoming?

As I write in "Good Vibrations", this is the elephant-like vibration that has rumbled me into awareness.

It's not that this resonates more deeply with me than the stories about sexual harassment; I have a pulpit for speaking out about that -- considering that I've been harassed as a lay worship leader, considering how the church as treated women for thousands of years, that pulpit is indeed the best place to address those issues.
But elephants? Who around here will care about elephants? This is why I care.
Actually, I care about everything -- and there is so much wrong in our world, so many terrible things humans do to each other and to animals and to the environment, it's hard not to be paralyzed by everything that needs to be done. How can I be the light of the world when there is so much wrong in our world?

Still trying to answer that question for this coming Sunday. Not peopling isn't the answer but it's so damn tempting.

The elephant shelf

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