Leiris, Laundry Love and building community

Yesterday I posted about how grateful I am for the voices of sanity beginning to rise out of the din of hate, ignorance, and fear in the wake of the Paris bombings.  This morning I continue this gratitude. Last night I witnessed two more voices of sanity. One is the BBC video about Antoine Leiris’ tribute to his wife who died in the Paris attacks. One line in his statement sums up all voices of sanity:

I will not give you the gift of hating you. You have obviously sought it, but giving in to it would be giving in to the same ignorance that has made you what you are.

I found the other voice of sanity last night when I went to explore a new ministry at a local laundromat. The ministry is called Laundry Love. The Episcopal church in town organizes it, but it is part of a much larger project.

The Laundry Love initiative consists of regular opportunities to help people who are struggling financially by assisting them with doing their laundry. For those living below the poverty line, washing clothes presents both a logistical problem and a financial hardship. Laundry Love partners with local laundromats in cleaning the clothes of those living in shelters, motels, cars, garages and on the streets.

When I arrived at the downtown laundromat, the place was full, packed with people doing their laundry and volunteers. Volunteers in red aprons handed out quarters, laundry soap, fabric softener sheets, and name tags written on painters tape, which were placed on the machines to signify a place in line for that machine.  People chatted. I learned about the lives of couple of people new to the area having arrived from shelters in other towns. I assisted in getting caps off little bottles of bubble soap to occupy toddlers while parents washed clothes. I chatted with another local activist who is helping to bring public transportation to our town.  I spend my hour there basically hanging out with my neighbors, both people very much like me, such as members of the Episcopal church, and people not so much like me.

Until we can be with our neighbors hanging out, doing laundry, building community, we will never be able lessen the grip of the bigotry, racism, and xenophobia that leads not only to discrimination, but also, taken to its logical end, the type of terrorism perpetrated by ISIS.

Terrorists, racists, and fundamentalists practice dehumanization – they remove other people’s humanity.  Once you remove the “other’s” humanity, it is much easier to hurt, maim, rape, torture, or kill them. They are not human.  They are different, less than. If someone is human just as you are human it is much more difficult to justify treating them unjustly or with cruelty.

When we build community we practice re-humanization. We make our neighbors, especially those who are very different from us more like us.  In order to love our neighbor as ourselves we first have to recognize our neighbor’ as being our neighbor.

It’s easy to bomb, terrorize or deny immigration opportunity to those who are not as human, not as good, not as worthy as we are. Yet, it’s very difficult to hurt or deny access to those we recognize as being just like us – human, just like us.

It’s not really a stretch to say that one way to fight terrorism as well as racism is to get to know your neighbors. Not only the people who live next door, but also and even more importantly, your neighbors who live in a different part of town.

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