The world that Puanani Burgess gets her audiences to visualize as she talks to them about “Building the Beloved Community” is peopled with her children and grandchildren, her husband and other family members and neighbors from her beloved rural Wai`anae. We hear about little Poha who remained disappointingly unmoved by the cows and horses and other sights and sounds of his neighborhood as his grandmother walked him around, pointing them out– until she bent down and realized that at his level, he was not seeing much beyond the long grass. Lifted up on her shoulders, he squealed in delight at the world now visible to him.
Seeing what others see. Feeling what they feel. That too was the lesson of the “weather ball.” This is a small squeezable ball that Puanani offers anyone who comes looking for advice or wanting to talk. “Tell me what the weather is like inside you,” she asks, before they even begin talking about the issue at hand.
Leaders in the church. Heads of state. Politicians. Community organizers. All of us. We could all learn from the story of Poha and learning to see from his perspective. We would all be gentler and wiser if we used a weather ball with those whose lives we affect in ways big and small by our statements, actions and policies.
Does Being “Special” Preclude Being Equal?
Before Pope Francis tells women once again that they are “special” or reaffirms the actions taken to investigate the work of women religious in the United States, he could learn a few things by following the example of Poha’s grandmother. He might be surprised and enlightened by what the world looks like through the eyes of the women the church is so determined to police. The Pope has named a new advisory panel to help him with some much needed spring-cleaning of the Vatican. That’s the good news. The bad news is the panel is entirely drawn from the very group whose activities need to be cleaned up.
The advisory panel is made up of eight cardinals. All men, of course. They will pronounce on women’s reproductive rights and obligations among other things without the benefit of counsel from any women in their midst. They will tell women how they should behave, what they should think and how they should discern the lessons of faith and keep serving a church that regards them as “special”—just not equal. All this without once asking women to tell them what the weather is like inside their hearts and minds and the core of their being.
Who Exactly Has “Dirty Hands?”
Cardinal Dolan could also learn a thing or two from seeing the world as Poha sees it. And that “weather ball” might have kept him from issuing the disastrously patronizing newsletter in which he professed to welcome LGBT Catholics while likening their sexuality to having “dirty hands.” Pomp and power apparently have a way of making otherwise smart people tone deaf.
Malaysia: Building –or Fracturing –the Beloved Community
The stories coming out of Malaysia this General Election weekend attest to a similar “hearing” problem in high places. A country once known for being a model of racial tolerance and peaceful coexistence is riven by suspicion and high anxiety as stories go viral on the internet of voters being wiped off –or added to the rolls and there are troubling reports of obstacles in the way of a clean election. The good news here is that people are rising above racial and religious divides to go to the polls in greater numbers than ever before. They are more determined than ever before to press for clean government, the rule of law and a chance to regain the good name Malaysia once had as a healthy democracy with functioning checks and balances. The good name it had as a peaceful multi-religious, multi-racial society that was comfortable with its diversity till politicians made diversity a weapon with which to divide and conquer. Malaysians know better—and will say so with their vote on May 5.