My personality is wired to fight injustice. When I see people being oppressed, something rises in me. I don’t know if it should be called righteous indignation. Sometimes it’s anger, and I can’t be sure it really is righteous. I know that my motives are mixed with my own desire to be “right,” but I hope that it also is a recognition that things are not right. That this is not the way things are supposed to be.
My most natural response is to fight when I see something wrong, to stand against it. I usually experience an adrenaline rush that helps me do just that. I feel my spirit bow up. I imagine my spiritual chest puffing up and my fists clenching. And I go to war. On behalf of those who are being oppressed. Or to prove I am right. Or both.
These last couple of weeks, as one event after another has played out on the stage of the world’s drama— Charlottesville, Trump’s ban on transgenders in the military, pardoning of a criminal racist, Hurricane Harvey, flooding in south Texas displacing thousands and destroying so many homes and lives, flooding in India and Sierra Leon killing thousands and displacing so many more, North Korea shooting missiles over Japan, the Nashville Statement—I kept thinking, I have to take a stand. I have to say something. I have to make it known that I stand against . . .
My husband is really good at strategy games. He especially knows how to win war games like Risk and Axis & Allies. No one in our family ever wants to play with him, because it’s just not fun anymore. None of the rest of us have a chance of winning, so why even start? I have watched him play these games, and he knows how to fight. One of the keys is that you can’t fight on too many fronts at once. You’ll exhaust your armies, and you’ll be spread too thin. You have to consolidate forces.
I know this. But it seems that the fight is equally important on every front. The fight against racism. The fight against oppression of those who are “other.” The fight against the destruction of our environment. The fight against nuclear proliferation. The fight against poverty. We have to fight against all of them! . . . I got so overwhelmed I became paralyzed.
Yesterday, I spent the entire day buried in accounting paperwork. It was my own version of “numbing” myself. Some of us turn to alcohol. Some to binge watching Netflix. Some to ice cream. I turn to work. I drown myself in work, so that I don’t have to feel. I picked a problem that I could measure. Numbers don’t fight back. They don’t have any moral battles to win. They simply are a puzzle with pieces to arrange and rearrange until they fit together like they’re supposed to fit. I worked on the numbers for nine hours straight, ’til after midnight last night, until I crashed in my bed, too tired to feel anything anyway.
When I woke early this morning, I heard a dove calling to me from the tree outside my window. An invitation to come away. I sat on my front porch listening to the cooing and remembered.
A couple of months ago, in Seattle with our family, we went to one of our favorite restaurants. It’s a seafood restaurant called Ivar’s on Pier 54 at Seattle’s Waterfront. Ivar’s has a fancy, expensive, indoor restaurant, with an amazing view of Puget Sound, but our family likes to eat at the casual, outdoor, walk-up counter. We order fish and chips, and take it around the corner to a small patio with picnic tables. The view of the Sound is obscured by piers and ferries, but our favorite part of the experience is feeding the seagulls.
There are hundreds of them. The restaurant even encourages feeding them by posting a sign that says, “Do not be afraid of overfeeding. Seagulls are dainty eaters.” They’re loud and obnoxious, and really skilled at catching bits of french fries that picnickers throw into their air. We enjoy watching their personalities, as they battle one another to get closer to food. They beg louder and louder, push and shove each other. The chaos is humorous and an adventure, especially when our kids were young. Whenever we are in Seattle, we go back to Ivar’s. It’s nostalgia for our family, and yummy food as well.
This time, as we were sitting in our eating adventure, I noticed a new sign on the fence. It read, “Seagulls welcome. Seagull lovers are welcome to feed seagulls in need. (Please do not feed pigeons.)”
What?! I have long felt that pigeons get a bad rap. I know. They’re annoying. They make messes. They can carry diseases. I have even heard them likened to rats. I get it. They’re a nuisance.
I started attending Alanon meetings a few years ago. Alanon is a support system for friends and family of addicts. I have lots of addicts in my life, and the Alanon program has been a huge help to me in combatting my natural tendency to codependency. A reading from an Alanon book likens addicts to pigeons. The message is basically that we need not get frustrated when we are sitting under a tree and pigeon poop lands on our head. The pigeon is simply doing what pigeons do. This was a helpful picture to me for learning to “let go” and stop trying to control people in my life. But it also endeared me to pigeons, because pigeons are my people.
Did you know that pigeons have another name? They are really called “rock doves.” These “rats” are not rats at all! They are doves. Look at them. Shiny green, blue and lavender necks. Dark stripes on their wings and tail feathers.
Why is it that we decided we don’t like them? They became too many? Their quantity overwhelmed other birds? They poop more? They eat trash? They’re loud?
What a picture. You’re welcome to feed the seagulls (who are loud, eat trash, poop a lot, etc.), but not the pigeons. A picture of the table. Who is allowed at the table?
This morning as I sat listening to the dove calling to me from the tree in my yard, I found what I need to say. Fighting against is exhausting. And there are too many fronts. It feels like the world is one big fight right now. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe more than fighting, or “taking a stand,” the best thing for us to do is simply to open up our table. To invite the pigeons to our table.
I don’t mean that we don’t resist. There is most definitely a need for us to resist. But when we start to feel the exhaustion of the fight, maybe what we need to do is focus on who we are fighting for, instead of who and what we are fighting against. It’s a subtle shift, and our activism may even look the same. But for me, it’s an important shift, a different energy at the source. Against energy feels constricted and tight. For energy feels open and wide. Like Love. Like hanging out a welcome sign.
We’ll keep trying to fix the world. We must. But sadly, I can’t do much on a national level, or a state level, or even a city level. I can’t do much about the sweeping, systemic injustice that threatens, and shaking its fist, cackles that it still holds the world in the grip of greed and power. When I encounter that monster, I become paralyzed.
What I can do is look for the pigeons—the ones who’ve been restricted from coming to the table—and I can open up my table. Maybe you can too. Maybe if we do, the table will become bigger. Hospitality will overcome greed. Love will overcome power. And we’ll have a marvelous meal together.
Jesus told a story once about a great feast. The story ends this way: