2017
December
05
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Is American politics at a moral crossroad?

On the same day that Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan announced his retirement amid sexual harassment claims, the Republican National Committee restored its financial support for Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama.

As you’ll see in the story below, many of Mr. Moore’s supporters face a moral trade-off: Vote for an avowed Christian who says he’ll help stop abortions or turn away a man accused of child molestation?

If elected by Alabama voters, some leading Republicans have called for Moore to face a Senate ethics investigation. But if found culpable, would Moore really be expelled from the Senate?

For America’s Founding Fathers, moral offenses weren’t proscribed as grounds for expulsion. The Constitution does have a “disorderly behavior” while in office clause that can get a lawmaker booted with a two-thirds majority vote. The Supreme Court has also ruled that “each House shall be the judge of the ... qualifications of its Members,” but the Constitution says those qualifications are limited to age, citizenship, and residency, reports Politico. There’s nothing about ethics.

In America, voters are responsible for the quality of their government's leadership – and their moral standards.

Now, here are five stories we've selected to illustrate justice, hope, and progress at work.

1. Among Alabama women, a generational split on Roy Moore

For women in Alabama, there’s a generational divide over right and wrong when it comes to weighing loyalty, ethical behavior, tax cuts, and Roy Moore’s candidacy.

David
Brynn Anderson/AP
Kayla Moore, wife of former Alabama Chief Justice and Senate candidate Roy Moore, speaks at a press conference in Montgomery, Ala. Whether Republican women stick with Mr. Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, will be critical to determining the outcome of the Dec. 12 special election.

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Normally, Alabama is reliably Republican. It put Donald Trump over the top by 28 points last year. But this is not a normal election. It features a GOP candidate who would face an immediate Senate ethics investigation if elected, and a Democrat who is vastly outspending his competitor and polling remarkably well. After President Trump's endorsement of Republican Roy Moore this week, Democrat Doug Jones will need to generate heavy turnout among African-Americans and peel off some Republicans – particularly suburban GOP women. The suburban women’s vote “may be the increment that makes the difference in this election,” says Gerald Johnson, a longtime observer of Alabama politics and former director of the Capital Survey Research Center. Yet in interviews with more than a dozen Republican women in Jefferson County, outside Birmingham, the Monitor found a striking generational divide. Older women, whether bothered by the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Moore or not, said they were likely to vote for him or stay home. Younger women found the accounts of Moore’s inappropriate behavior with teenage girls more credible and disturbing, and said they would vote for Mr. Jones or a write-in candidate.

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Among Alabama women, a generational split on Roy Moore

When voters head to the polls next week in Alabama’s high-stakes Senate race, one question will be key: Will suburban Republican women stick with their party’s chosen candidate, Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s?

Female voters in well-to-do suburbs like Mountain Brook, outside of Birmingham, could make the difference in the Dec. 12 special election that’s too close – and too unusual – to call, observers say. Normally, Alabama is reliably Republican. It put Donald Trump over the top by 28 points last year.

But this is not a normal election. It features a GOP candidate who would face an immediate Senate ethics investigation if elected, and a Democrat who is vastly outspending his competitor and polling remarkably well. And although the campaign has been front-page news here, voters will be heading to the polls at a time when many are busy preparing for the Christmas holidays.

“It’s the urban-suburban vote that’s going to make the race,” says Gerald Johnson, a longtime observer of Alabama politics and former director of the Capital Survey Research Center.

Mr. Moore’s campaign has been bolstered this week by an endorsement from President Trump, along with the Republican National Committee’s decision to deploy resources on Moore’s behalf (after previously pulling its support for him), and a rally in Fairhope Tuesday evening with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

To overcome these headwinds, Democrat Doug Jones will have to turn on the turnout. That means generating heavy participation by African-Americans and peeling off some Republicans – particularly suburban women.

The suburban women’s vote “may be the increment that makes the difference in this election,” says Mr. Johnson. He points specifically to Birmingham and surrounding Jefferson County, the most populous part of the state, which includes affluent Mountain Brook.

Here, BMWs and Porsches hug hillside roads where the trees still sport orange leaves on a warm December day. Dotting the lush lawns that sweep up to Tudor mansions and Plantation-style homes in this traditionally Republican suburb are numerous Doug Jones signs.

Mountain Brook is home to Mr. Jones, a former US attorney who successfully prosecuted Klansmen for killing four black girls in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. But that alone doesn’t account for the many Jones signs – and the noticeable absence of any Moore placards.

Interviews with more than a dozen Republican women in Jefferson County, most of them in Mountain Brook, found diverging views. But one thing jumps out: a distinct generational difference.

A ‘different time’

Older women, whether bothered by the allegations against Moore or not, said they were likely to vote for him or stay home. Younger women found the accounts of his inappropriate behavior more credible and disturbing, and said they would vote for Jones or a write-in candidate.

Pam Segars-Morris has long been active in Alabama Republican circles. The Realtor, from the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown, originally supported Sen. Luther Strange, the GOP incumbent who lost to Moore in a September primary run-off. But now she is squarely behind Moore, because, like Trump, she believes he’ll fight the “swamp” in Washington and speak his mind without regard to political correctness.

She isn’t pleased that Moore was twice removed from the bench as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey court orders that differed with his religious views. But she calls the sexual allegations against Moore “a political hit job” full of what she sees as irregularities, holes, and falsehoods.

Besides, she says, those were different times.

“I was around 40 years ago, and I know what was acceptable and what was not,” says Ms. Segars-Morris. She says her grandmother married at age 13 and had seven children, and her aunt was 16 when she wed. “If you weren’t married by 18, you were an old maid.”

A Washington Post-Schar Center poll looked at this issue of comparative cultural norms. In results published earlier this month, the poll found that a solid majority of likely voters in Alabama – 56 percent – did not think that older men dating teenagers was more accepted by society in the 1970s than it is today. However, a third of overall respondents believed it was more accepted back then, including 37 percent of Republicans.

Such dating is seen as totally unacceptable in today’s world, the poll found. Nearly all respondents, 91 percent, said it is never appropriate for a man in his 30s to date a female 16-year-old, which is the legal age of consent in Alabama.

The passage of time makes no difference to Sarah, a 30-something who stopped to talk in the charming Mountain Brook village of Crestline, which features boutique shops and restaurants.

“Moore did not marry these girls. He messed with them,” she says. “I don’t think it’s OK.” Sarah, who did not want her last name used, says she plans to write in a candidate, probably a Republican newcomer to the race, retired Marine Col. Lee Busby.

She found agreement from Mary Leesa Booth, an attorney in her 40s, who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the past. Ms. Booth calls Moore “disgusting,” and says her conservative friends, especially moms, do not plan to vote for him.

“The whole issue hits home. I don’t have kids, but people are energized to vote [against Moore],” says Ms. Booth, who describes Jones as “a very good person.”

Abortion a key issue

Several older women, including Segars-Morris, said they could never vote for Jones because he supports abortion rights – a key issue, and often a deciding one, for many conservative evangelical voters. Some said they didn’t approve of Moore, but were going to back him anyway because a Republican absolutely must hold that Senate seat to ensure conservative judicial appointments, including possibly to the Supreme Court.

If Moore loses, that would narrow the GOP’s hold on the Senate to a one-seat majority. That point has been underscored by two female Republican leaders in Alabama, the governor and the party leader. And it's a point Trump brought home in his Monday endorsement tweet:

For younger Republican women, abortion is also an important issue.

“A pro-life Democrat would have won this particular race running away. The distaste for Roy Moore is so strong, if it wasn’t for this one issue he wouldn’t stand a chance,” says Elizabeth BeShears, a contributing conservative columnist for the Alabama Media Group, AL.com, who recently opined that “Kids these days aren’t supporting Roy Moore.”

Moore is campaigning on God, Trump, draining the D.C. swamp, and his anti-abortion and traditional-marriage views. Yet social issues are not the only concern for younger conservatives, both men and women, says Ms. BeShears in an interview. Many have a problem with Moore generally – and not only the reports of his sexual misconduct.

“We’re tired of being embarrassed by our elected officials,” she says, referring to a governor who resigned last spring on the verge of impeachment and a state speaker of the House who was convicted of felony charges and also pushed out. “We’re tired of being embarrassed by the poor education in Alabama.”

While older Alabamians might relish their fierce independent streak and bristle at outsiders telling them what to do, younger people “are a lot more concerned with how the world sees us than previous generations have been,” BeShears says.

They’re so concerned that last month, the Young Republican Federation of Alabama suspended its support for Moore and said he should step aside if he cannot “clearly and convincingly” refute the sexual misconduct allegations. Moore has denied the claims, but the issue for the federation – the state’s main group of young Republicans – is the “convincingly” part.

Traditionally, turnout among young voters is not as high as with older voters. But these activists represent Alabama’s rising Republicans and raise the question of whether a broader political change lies ahead.

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2. Wedding-cake case: religious liberty or right to discriminate?

What would Jesus bake? The US Supreme Court weighs in on whether free speech rights trump civil rights when a baker chooses not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

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Five years ago, Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into a cake shop in Lakewood, Colo., with ideas for a cake for their wedding. After telling the shop's owner, Jack Phillips, they wanted him to make a wedding cake for them, he politely told them he didn't make cakes for same-sex weddings. Colorado has a law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, and a civil rights complaint against Mr. Phillips has evolved into a hybrid free speech and religious freedom case before the US Supreme Court. Dozens of amicus briefs have been supporting both sides, and all warn of potential seismic consequences if their side loses. Like many contentious cases before the court in recent years, Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the deciding vote. But as both the court’s most prominent supporter of gay rights and one of its leading proponents of free speech, experts say this swing vote will be especially difficult for Justice Kennedy. The core question, says one religious law scholar, is “whether or not someone's religious beliefs in not serving [someone] ... should be stronger than the state’s interest in making sure that people are not improperly excluded from participating in the public marketplace.”

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Wedding-cake case: religious liberty or right to discriminate?

In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into a cake shop in Lakewood, Colo. Across the counter was Jack Phillips, owner of the bakery he had opened 24 years earlier.

The two men told him they wanted a cake for their wedding reception. They even had a binder of possible ideas. Before they could open it, Mr. Phillips told them that while he would be happy to make them other products, he did not sell baked goods for same-sex weddings because of his Christian beliefs.

Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins left embarrassed and, they say, distraught. After the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found in 2014 that Phillips had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and ordered him to make cakes for same-sex weddings or not design wedding cakes at all, Phillips says he felt forced to choose between his faith and his life’s work.

Five years after the couple left the Masterpiece Cakeshop, the case challenging a state law prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people will be heard by the US Supreme Court. As evidenced by the people who began camping outside the high court Friday for a seat at Tuesday’s oral arguments, it seems destined to be a historic ruling in a landmark term. Heavyweight legal organizations on both sides have warned that defeat could bring potentially seismic consequences, more than 100 amicus briefs have been filed – some forming unlikely partnerships – and observers are predicting the justices will split along ideological lines. The views of Justice Anthony Kennedy – often the court’s swing vote, but also its leading proponent of gay rights – will be of even more interest than usual to court watchers.

This is “the first time we have this question of whether or not someone’s religious beliefs in not serving [people] something should be stronger than the state’s interest in making sure that people are not improperly excluded from participating in the public marketplace,” says Robert Tuttle, a professor of law and religion and George Washington University Law School in Washington.

The case brought to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is significantly different from the case now before the Supreme Court. Back then, the case mirrored religious freedom-based challenges to advancements in LGBT rights. Phillips also had made an argument on free speech grounds, however, and the validity of that argument is likely to decide the case. The Roberts court has been willing to shift legal precedents on a variety of issues, from union fees to campaign finance, in the interest of protecting free speech. This case could continue that trend, experts say.

‘Compelled speech’ with ‘startling’ implications

Boiling it down, Phillips argues the First Amendment protects his right to create and sell wedding cakes in a way that is consistent with his religious identity. He also refuses to make cakes that celebrate Halloween, divorce, or “promote atheism, racism, or indecency.” What the lower courts in Colorado are doing, he claims, is forcing him to speak in favor of something he objects to.

Under the “compelled speech” doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that in some circumstances the First Amendment protects an individual from being required to express a thought with which they disagree. Students cannot be forced to salute the flag, for example, and a newspaper cannot be required to publish an advertisement. (Other forms of compelled speech, such as warnings on alcohol and tobacco products and filing a tax return, are not protected.)

The thought and care Phillips puts into designing and decorating his wedding cakes, he argues “necessarily express ideas about marriage and the couple, and as a result ... are entitled to full constitutional protection.”

A key precedent he cites is a 1993 high court ruling that the state of Massachusetts could not force the organizers of a private St. Patrick’s Day parade to allow an Irish-American LGBT group to march with them. That ruling means “a cake artist who serves all people, like Phillips does, cannot be forced to create wedding cakes that celebrate marriage at odds with his faith,” his petition says.

He also claims that Colorado’s nondiscrimination law violates his Free Exercise rights because it specifically targets religious objectors to same-sex marriage, pointing to three Colorado bakeries who were not punished for refusing to make cakes with anti-gay inscriptions on them in 2014.

His case has attracted a diverse range of supporters, including the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, which supported the court legalizing same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges two years ago.

“We also support private freedoms here,” says Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

In its amicus brief, Cato warns of the “startling results” upholding the lower court decisions in favor of the state would mean. A graphic designer who thinks Scientology is fraudulent, for example, would not be allowed to refuse to design flyers for Scientologist meetings, and an actor “would violate the [Colorado] law if he refused to perform in a commercial for a religious organization he dislikes.”

A ‘straightforward’ case with ‘limitless’ consequences

However, some experts say a victory for Phillips would have equally significant consequences.

Phillips’s argument “is no different conceptually than if an artist or painter offered to paint people at a gallery for a fee but refused to paint black people,” says Floyd Abrams, a leading First Amendment scholar, in a conference call with reporters organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney for the ACLU who is representing Craig and Mullins, says “the consequences really are limitless” should the Supreme Court rule broadly against her clients.

The Department of Justice argues against that. In a brief supporting Phillips, it says the justices should be able to write an opinion exempting artists like Phillips from serving same-sex weddings without throwing other forms of discrimination into legal limbo. Racial bias in particular, the government notes, is something the justices found last year to be a “unique historical, constitutional and institutional concern” that gives the state a “compelling” interest to eradicate. “The same cannot be said for opposition to same-sex marriage,” the government claims.

The free speech portion of the case has become more prominent largely because Supreme Court precedent makes the free exercise of religion portion practically unwinnable for Phillips, experts say. The court set that precedent in 1990, when Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in Employment Division v. Smith that exempting individuals from certain laws on religious grounds “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” including military service, payment of taxes, and child-neglect laws.

“There haven’t been any judge-mandated exceptions to public accommodations law, for individual religiously motivated corporate actors, whether in the federal judiciary or in states,” says Professor Tuttle, who signed onto an amicus brief supporting the couple. “Opening the door to those is just utterly unpredictable in its consequences.”

Some experts argue that the free speech complaint is also unfounded because, unlike the parade in Boston, Phillips’s store is not a private event but a public accommodation.

“When [an artist] opens a shop, then invites the public in and offers their works of art for sale, they can’t do it in a way that violates the antidiscrimination laws,” says Mr. Abrams, a lawyer who has argued numerous high-profile free speech cases, including defending The New York Times against the Nixon administration’s attempts to stop them publishing the Pentagon Papers. “This seems a fairly straightforward decision where there was overt discrimination.”

Specifically, the couple point to a 1968 high court ruling that government can regulate speech under certain circumstances, including if “the incidental restriction on First Amendment freedoms is not greater” than a “substantial government interest.”

Furthermore, some experts say it would be easier for Phillips to convince the justices that he was compelled to say something he disagreed with if there was an actual message on the cake. Since the 2012 conversation never got that far, and Phillips is arguing that the cake by itself speaks to his support for same-sex marriage, there are fewer concrete facts for the justices to point to.

That also makes it harder for the court to write a narrow opinion in favor of Phillips, says Geoffrey Stone, a First Amendment expert and a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. If providing a plain wedding cake for a same-sex wedding is an endorsement of gay marriage, he adds, is providing funeral services for an LGBT person, or an African-American person, an endorsement that they are “people who deserve dignity”?

“It’s hard to see what the limiting principle is if there’s no specific message involved,” he continues. “That extends so far beyond anything the Supreme Court ever imagined.”

A right to dignity has been at the heart of American civil rights law, and it is a consistent theme in the Craig and Mullins brief.

“This case is about us getting turned away and humiliated by a business that’s open to public,” says Mullins in a conference call with reporters. “We never want another couple to go through that pain we’ve gone through.”

‘A hard call’ for Kennedy

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell affirmed that LGBT people have a constitutional right to “equal dignity,” but it also made clear that those “who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

On top of being a leading proponent of free speech on the court, Kennedy has also authored the majority opinion in every Supreme Court decision favoring LGBT rights since 1996’s Romer v. Evans, which held that Colorado couldn’t bar people from legal discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation. That doesn’t mean Kennedy sees no limits on gay rights, however. As Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court reporter for The New York Times, told Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick last month, Kennedy subscribes to the philosophy that “losers get to complain.”

“He supports at least certain aspects of gay rights, [but] how far he feels it’s necessary to go in nondiscrimination laws” isn’t clear, says Steven Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., who signed onto the same amicus brief as Tuttle.

“What he’ll probably be balancing is the dignity interests of the couple versus the free speech interests of the baker to not express something that goes against his religious beliefs,” adds Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago. “That’s going to be a hard call.”

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3. Newest Zimbabweans deliver hope for nation’s next era

The next story deftly weaves a big political shift in Zimbabwe into the fabric of the lives of new moms and dads, forming a tapestry of cautious, newfound hope.

David
Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Joseph and Moreblessing Mutsakani cradle their daughter Meryl, who was born Nov. 21, the day Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power. 'She came a week early,' her mother says. 'Like there was something she didn’t want to miss.'

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Alfred Garakara and his wife Progress have just had a baby. And they are putting a lot of faith in her future. When Alfred and Progress were young, their country, Zimbabwe, was young and full of hope, too. A freshly minted democracy, newly independent and rich in resources, the nation emerged from white minority rule under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, a veteran of the liberation struggle. “We were very optimistic,” Alfred recalls. But little by little, the dream soured. Mr. Mugabe treated his rivals as enemies, massacring them if they were black and evicting them from their farms if they were white, and impoverishing everybody as he drove the economy to disaster. After 37 years of his rule, the army last month moved against him and parliament forced him to resign. The day he stepped down, Progress gave birth to a daughter. The middle name her parents chose? Nokutenda – the Shona word for faith. “Her name is for faith in a new beginning,” her mother explains.

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1. Newest Zimbabweans deliver hope for nation’s next era

Progress Garakara felt a jolt of pain run through her, and she knew.

It was time.

In her modest home on the outskirts of Zimbabwe’s capital, she waddled across the bedroom to where she kept the small bag she’d packed weeks before.

Then she called to a tenant who lived in the next room. “The baby is coming,” she told her. As dawn rose over the city in a smear of wood-smoke, dust, and car exhaust, the two women, along with Progress’ husband, Alfred, set off on foot for the Edith Opperman maternity hospital, a mile away.   

Fifteen miles to the South, in the scrappy dormitory town of Chitungwiza, Moreblessing Mutsakani had already arrived at the labor ward of the town’s hospital.

On a long narrow bed in a long narrow room, she lay still, watching the nurses shuffle past in their immaculately clean white uniforms, their conversation floating over her in a gauzy haze. Parliament…special session…impeachment. Then the nurses’ words slipped out of reach: another contraction had seized her. Moreblessing breathed sharply and quickly and waited for it to pass.

In Mbare, Alfred left his wife at the hospital gate and returned home to wait.

Across town in the suburb of Epworth, Moreblessing’s husband, Joseph, waited too.

In the maternity wards at Chitungwiza and Edith Opperman, the nurses and midwives were waiting as well, though for more than babies. That afternoon, Zimbabwe’s parliament was scheduled to begin a process that only days earlier would have seemed as unlikely as an alien landing.

Parliament was going to impeach Robert Mugabe, the ancient autocrat who had ruled the country for longer than most of the hospital staff had been alive.

At Edith Opperman, a small, crackly radio blared hourly news briefings. “Just don’t name her Grace – she’ll come out spoiled!” the nurses joked with their patients. Grace Mugabe, the president’s high-spending wife, was one of the most unpopular – and powerful – figures in the country. A week earlier such a joke would have been unthinkable.

Around 8 a.m. that morning, Nov. 21, 2017, Moreblessing gave birth to Meryl Mutsakani, tiny and wailing and perfect. “She came a week early,” her mother says. “Like there was something she didn’t want to miss.”

Three hours later, Aleeya Nokutenda Garakara was born at Edith Opperman.

And then, at 5:41 p.m. on the evening of the two baby girls’ first day of life, the news came from parliament. It spread across Chitungwiza in a flurry of text messages and buzzing cell phones. Outside Edith Opperman, there were whoops of joy and jubilant car horns.

After 37 years, seven months, and three days as the leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe had resigned.

A prayer for the future

“Welcome to all the Zimbabwean children born on this day,” wrote the Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo on her Facebook page that evening. “You’re our most precious, most untarnished promise, may you never see what we've seen, may you know, finally, a Great Zimbabwe.”

May you never see what we’ve seen.

For the Mutsakanis, this was their prayer too.

Meryl, may you never watch your mother die of a minor infection when the local public hospital ran out of a simple medicine to treat it, as your father did. (“Ever since then, I hated my country,” Joseph says.)  

May you never have to give up a dream of becoming a secretary, like your mother did (“Those days that was the best job,” Moreblessing says, “a good white collar job,”) because there just isn’t the money for you to study for that long.

May you go to the kind of school your parents went to – the kind you get when your new country’s leader and his wife are both revolutionaries and former school teachers – not the kind your five older siblings go to now, tattered and expensive and neglected, the kind you get when your revolutionary president has outlived the revolution and refuses to go away.

 May you know, finally, a Great Zimbabwe.

A corner turned?

If he could give his daughter Aleeya any life, Alfred says, it would be the one he knew in his youth, before Zimbabwe’s collapse into economic ruin.

 “We took our tea with liver and sausage and bologna,” he remembers. The family lived in a three-bedroom house in Mbare – the same house he and Progress brought Aleeya home to last week. And on paydays his father, a mechanic for John Deere, took them into town and let them pick out a new piece of clothing.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
Alfred's and Progress Garakara's daughter Aleeya Nokutenda Garakara (held by her grandmother), was born on Nov. 21, the day Robert Mugabe resigned as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power. "Nokutenda" means faith in the local Shona language. “Her name is for faith in a new beginning,” Progress says.

When Alfred was eight, in April 1980, the country’s grinding guerilla war came to an end at last, and Robert Mugabe, a leader of the liberation struggle, became the country’s first prime minister.

“We were very optimistic,” Alfred says. And it stayed that way for years. But then “things started changing bit by bit, slowly, so that people couldn’t see the direction things were going until it had already happened.”

“It” was ethnic cleansing, a brutal military campaign by Mugabe’s forces against Zimbabwe’s minority Ndebele ethnic group in the mid-1980s said to have killed as many as 20,000 people. “It” was his program of “fast-track land reform” in the early 2000s, in which government supporters violently forced thousands of white farmers off their land without compensation, sending the country’s economy spiraling. “It” was hyperinflation, which hit 79.6 billion percent in late 2008.

As all these things changed, so did the shape of what Alfred felt he could hope for – for himself and his family.

He became a security guard. Progress worked as a trader – buying cheap Chinese clothes across the border in South Africa and selling them in Zimbabwe. But Alfred eventually lost his job, and they ran out of money to keep her business going. By the time Progress gave birth to their first daughter, Aisha, in 2006, the couple couldn’t afford the $25 the hospital charged for delivery. They still haven’t managed to pay that bill.

A decade later, when Progress found out she was pregnant again, the couple fretted. Their only income now came from a small hair salon they ran from a shack outside their house. And even the little money they had was hard to get at.

By then, Zimbabwe had all but run out of hard currency. Alfred would queue for hours at the bank to take out $30 – the maximum allowed. Sometimes they gave it to him in 10 cent coins. Sometimes by the time he got to the front of the line there wasn’t any money left in the bank at all.

“Things were really tough for us,” Alfred says.

Then, a week before Progress gave birth, the couple were home when they heard a bizarre news report. Tanks were idling on the outskirts of the capital.

The next morning, Alfred switched on ZBC – the state broadcaster – to find not a news bulletin, but a tape loop of liberation songs.

He woke his sleeping wife. “Something is happening,” he said. “I think Mugabe is going.”

“If my time was further away, I would have been out in the streets right then,” Progress says.

Instead, she and Alfred followed events from their living room, glued to the TV, as Mr. Mugabe’s rule crumbled over the next few days. And then they stopped watching the news. They had something – or rather, someone – else more important to attend to.

The day after they brought their daughter home, as Zimbabweans flooded the streets in a kind of spontaneous, country-wide block party, the couple chose her a name.

They would call her Aleeya. And as a middle name, they picked Nokutenda – the Shona word for “faith.”

It wasn’t as though they were naïve, Progress says. They knew the new president would be a member of Mugabe’s old guard. They knew that nothing would change overnight. Still, they wanted to choose a name that, each time they spoke it, would be a kind of prayer for Zimbabwe’s future.  

“Her name is for faith in a new beginning,” Progress says. “It’s total faith that this is our beginning.”

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4. In Jordan, an empowering solution for refugee camps

If you’re a refugee, you get used to temporary, stopgap solutions. That’s why the construction of two solar electricity plants for Syrian refugees epitomizes a deeper commitment to progress.

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Right from the start, the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan had problems with electric power. Families could not refrigerate food, turn on lights after sunset, or run a fan. “We would be in a daze during the day and fall asleep at sunset,” says a 25-year-old resident from Daraa, Syria. “Our lives would just stop.” With funds for Syrian refugees drying up as donors shift their focus to new humanitarian crises, the United Nations had been seeking ways to ease the financial burden of maintaining the camps and to raise the quality of life for residents when it saw the light: solar. In May, the Azraq camp became the world’s first solar-powered refugee camp, with a 2.5 megawatt photovoltaic plant funded by the IKEA Foundation providing electricity to 20,000 refugees. And this month another camp, Zaatari, followed suit, with a solar farm funded by the German government. Most important, refugees have been trained to manage and maintain the facilities. “While there is a need for emergency response,” says an executive at a German development bank, “there is also a need for long-term solutions.”

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In Jordan, an empowering solution for refugee camps

Facing dwindling funds and a humanitarian disaster stretching into its sixth year, the United Nations and Syrian refugees reached for the sun.

In Jordan, the UN and its partners have hooked up the first solar-powered refugee camps in the world – a test as to whether the international aid community can step beyond the emergency relief approach and provide sustainable solutions that benefit refugees, host communities, and the environment long after each crisis ends.

Jordan, which imports 98 percent of its energy needs, has struggled to manage the cost of the country’s 1.3 million Syrian refugees. The Zaatari camp, established in 2012 at the edge of Jordan’s northern desert, a few miles from the Syrian border, houses 80,000 Syrian refugees and has become Jordan’s fourth biggest population center; Azraq, home to 32,000 refugees, is in the middle of the country’s eastern desert.

Zaatari residents took UN-supplied power from camp street lamps, causing constant shortages in the camp and the surrounding area, and forcing the UN to cut electricity to eight hours a day; Azraq remained without electricity.

With funds for Syrian refugees drying up as donors shift their focus to new humanitarian crises, the UN looked for a way to ease the financial burden of maintaining the camps until it saw the light: solar.

In May, the Azraq camp became the first solar-powered refugee camp in the world, with a 2.5 megawatt photovoltaic plant funded by the IKEA Foundation providing electricity to 20,000 refugees for the very first time. The UN is currently working on a project to expand the plant’s capacity to provide electricity to the entire camp by the end of the year.

In November, Zaatari followed suit, with a 12.9 megawatt solar farm funded by the German government providing 14 hours of electricity per day to more than 80,000 Syrian refugees.

Back to the future

For the refugees themselves, the solar power is literally giving them a new lease on life.

Since Azraq’s establishment in 2014, families in the camp had been unable to refrigerate food, turn on lights after sunset, charge their mobile phones, or run a simple electric fan during sweltering summer days. In Zaatari, electricity had been limited to 8 hours a night and often was cut due to power outages caused by overuse; most families could barely get enough electricity to charge their phones.

Now, children can do their homework at night, and residents can move about the camp freely in the evenings. Families can stay inside their shelters during dust storms, cooled by electric fans. A trip to the bathroom in the evening is no longer a perilous journey into the dark desert night.

“We used to splash water on our faces to keep ourselves cool – we would be in a daze during the day and fall asleep at sunset,” says Ahmed Mohammed, a 25-year-old Azraq camp resident from Daraa, Syria.

“Our lives would just stop.”

“We didn’t know what a power outage was until we came to Jordan,” says Mohammed Ahmed, a 49-year-old Zaatari resident from the southern Syrian town of Tafas.

“Thanks to solar energy, we now feel like we have rejoined the 21st century.”

Freed up funds

The introduction of solar is saving scarce resources for the UN in Jordan, which was paying up to $10 million per year for electricity. The solar plant in Zaatari will save the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) $5.5 million annually, and the Azraq plant $1.5 million, funds that will now go back into other lifesaving services for the 650,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN – 78 percent of whom live outside the camps – and the 75,000 non-Syrian refugees in Jordan.

With the UN estimating that the average refugee crisis worldwide now lasts 17 years, the agency was looking for ways to provide sustainable solutions that would last after donor interest has died down and international attention has shifted to the latest crises and disasters. With the power plants, the Zaatari and Azraq camps have their electricity ensured for the next 20 years.

“By nature of the humanitarian system, refugees become dependent on outside support,” says Stefano Severe, UNHCR representative in Jordan.

“We need to find ways to make this support sustainable and independent, and solar energy is a major step in that direction.”

Only 11 percent of the 8.7 million refugees and displaced living in formal camps worldwide had access to reliable energy source as of 2015; 7 million refugees and displaced had access to less than 4 hours of electricity per day, according to a 2015 report by the Chatham House, a UK-based think tank."

The vast majority of refugees are forced to rely on firewood, coal, and liquid gas for cooking, heating, and light, often at their own expense – and paying well over the market price.

“There are ongoing discussions on how to use this as a model, and there are many camps that could benefit,” Mr. Severe says.

Private sector

The UNHCR admits that a critical requirement for refugee camps to go green is the private sector.

The Zaatari camp solar farm cost $17.7 million, while the Azraq power plant cost $9.6 million. Moving from one budget shortfall to another, the UNHCR and other UN agencies can barely sustain their activities, let alone put up the up-front investment required in such renewable energy projects.

As of September, the agency was facing a $113.8 million funding gap for its 2017 operations in Jordan, struggling to raise funds for 40 percent of its $277.2 million budget.

“Basically, the humanitarian system finds it difficult to fund this type of project,” says Glada Lahn, a senior research fellow at Chatham House who has researched renewable energy solutions to refugee crises.

“Their budgets run for a year, and they cannot justify investments in capital costs that pay off more than a year later,” says Ms. Lahn. “They cannot look at the payback. That is the real problem.”

When UNHCR decided to establish the plant in Azraq, it found immediate interest from the IKEA Foundation, the charitable arm of the Swedish furniture giant, and its Brighter Lives for Refugees Campaign.

When the UN agency looked to cut its costs in Zaatari, it approached the German government and the KfW, the German development bank, which finances environment conservation, solar energy, and international development projects. In Jordan, the KfW saw a unique opportunity to promote all three while aiding a host country under an increasing strain.

“Safe and continuous electricity supply is a basic need for refugee populations,” Dr. Joachim Nagel, member of the KfW Executive Board, said on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Zaatari plant in November.

“While there is a need for emergency response, there is also a need for long-term solutions to refugee populations that is not dependent on the donor community.”

Jobs for the future

The power plants have a lasting impact on Syrian refugees. The construction of the solar plants has employed more than 125 refugees, many of whom are staying on as full-time staff managing and maintaining the power stations.

Qasim Thiab was an electrician in his hometown of Daraa, before he fled to Jordan in 2013 with his young family.

After a year of doing odd-jobs outside Zaatari, the 31-year-old was selected to help run the plant due to his technical skills. For months, Thiab learned net-metering, how to operate switchgear for solar plants, and how to maximize power conversion efficiency of solar cells.

Now Thiab helps manage the Zaatari solar power plant, earning a monthly salary with health insurance for him and his family. He hopes to share his new skills in renewable energy once he returns to Syria, providing solar solutions for the country’s eventual reconstruction.

“There is no infrastructure left in Syria; no power-lines, no grid, no fuel refineries or power plants,” says Thiab, walking through rows of solar panels in the Zaatari desert on a break between shifts.

“Renewable energy is the future and the entire world is moving in this direction. When we rebuild our country, we should take part in this future.”

The projects also go far in helping the environment in the host country, Jordan. The Zaatari plant will cut carbon dioxide emissions from the camp by 13,000 tons per year – the equivalent to 30,000 barrels of oil – while the plant in Azraq brings a CO2 emissions savings of 2,370 tons.

Meanwhile, the UN is looking to take its solar projects one step further.

UNHCR Jordan is currently looking at firms interested in providing solutions for energy storage and electricity generation on-site at the Azraq camp, which is facing a net-metering limit due to the capacities of the grid in the Eastern Jordanian desert. The additions would make Azraq a solar power plant fully independent of the national grid.

In the meantime, Thiab says he and his colleagues are already planning ways to adapt the technology they are using in Zaatari to green projects in Syria, such as solar-powered farms, factories, and dairies. For him, and many others, it is a silver lining in a crisis that has given few reasons to celebrate.

“If a refugee camp can go solar, anything can,” Thiab says.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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5. The high school ‘failure factory’ that made its graduation rate surge

In Tulsa, Okla., they’ve learned that high school graduation rates rise when relationships are built with students, especially those with challenges outside of school. 

David

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Every Monday, principal Shelly Holman and her staff meet with representatives from three organizations that work in their school thanks to an education nonprofit called Diplomas Now. Together they review a list of students at Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa, Okla., for whom the data indicates a dropout risk. The team puts into place a plan to reach out to these students, find out what non-school challenges they’re facing, and help get the students and their families the resources they need. Sharing data with outside organizations isn’t business as usual for school officials. The partnership that’s developed at Webster requires a leap of faith from both the administration and the faculty. It has also helped bring results: The school’s graduation rate jumped from 53 percent in 2013 to 75 percent in 2016. “Diplomas Now has given us the boots on the ground to work with these kids individually,” Ms. Holman says. “We can take the load off of our teachers, who are under the pressure of meeting the academic standards, so that we aren’t a failure factory.” 

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The high school ‘failure factory’ that made its graduation rate surge

The first thing you notice during morning arrival outside Daniel Webster High School is the cluster of red-jacketed young adults, each holding up a sign identifying their favorite hobby. They’re members of City Year, a nonprofit partner of AmeriCorps that places college-age members in high-poverty urban schools to serve as tutors and mentors. 

Many of the Webster upperclassmen simply walk by, but several younger students stop and chat about a shared love of video games or binge-watching YouTube clips.

“There are statistics showing that high-poverty students typically have three negative interactions before they get to school,” explains City Year team leader Keanna Marshall, a college graduate who grew up in Tulsa. “So our daily greeting provides a positive interaction before they get into their classroom.”

Webster High School, just a few miles from downtown Tulsa across the Arkansas River, serves the city's west-side community in which only 15 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree or higher and 10 percent of residents are unemployed. Nine out of ten students at Webster qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, a national measure of poverty.

Amadou Diallo/The Hechinger Report
City Year members greet students during their arrival at Daniel Webster High School, in Tulsa, Okla.

As in many schools where poverty and homelessness are daily realities, test scores at Webster have lagged behind statewide averages. But an even bigger struggle has been keeping students in school. By 2013, Webster managed to graduate just 53 percent of its students.

“The need to focus on graduation rates was pretty obvious,” says Tulsa school superintendent Deborah Gist. With school budgets limited by a conservative-led state legislature that critics say chronically underfunds public education, the district turned to Diplomas Now, an education nonprofit whose aim is to increase graduation rates using a data-driven system of early intervention. The results have been impressive. According to information provided by district officials, in spring 2016 (the most recent year available), Webster graduated 75 percent of its seniors, a 22-point increase in three years.

A change in culture 

Under the umbrella of Diplomas Now, three separate organizations operate on Webster’s campus. City Year, with its team of 10 corps members, is the most visible. Communities In Schools, a Virginia-based nonprofit, directs students and families in need to community resources. Talent Development Secondary, a nonprofit that grew out of a Johns Hopkins University study on dropout rates, is the data-driven arm; it identifies kids at risk of dropping out and establishes a school-wide process of intervention and support services to keep them on track to graduate.

The change in the school culture is palpable. “Before, the goal was just to finish high school,” says Abi Gruse, a 17-year-old senior who was born and raised in Tulsa’s west-side neighborhood. “But these last few years it’s really been a big turnaround in the school … they really are pushing us toward higher education.”

When kids perform poorly in the classroom, it’s the schools that are held accountable. But those who work with low-income students say that academic struggles are often the least of a child’s problems.

“We have students that don’t have the basic needs at home, from laundry detergent to food,” says Corey Rowland, the Communities In Schools site coordinator. “A kid might come to me and say, ‘Our lights got cut off this week.’ Or, ‘My dad was beating on my mom all night.’ My job is to find out why a kid isn’t coming to school, why they’re sleeping in class, why they aren’t in uniform. It’s not just a student being defiant.”

Relationships are a priority

Getting students to share this type of information is the first challenge. At Webster the emphasis among each of the partner organizations is to establish individual relationships with students. City Year’s members, all between the ages of 17 and 24, serve as “near-peers” and provide one-on-one tutoring, host after-school programs, and sit in on every ninth- and 10th-grade math and English class, in an attempt to create the open lines of communication.

“If a kid is having a crisis at home that day,” says math teacher Julie Skrzypczak, “maybe they confide in the City Year member whereas [otherwise] they just come into my room angry.” Sometimes, she says, all it takes is for the City Year member assigned to her class to go take a walk with the student for a few minutes of conversation, and the student returns ready to learn.

Mr. Rowland can provide access to community and city resources to address problems such as homelessness, abuse, and mental health needs, but he says he can’t do anything without first gaining the trust of students who may be too ashamed to ask for help. “Kids have to know that you care before they care about what you know,” he says. Even in stable households, Rowland added, many of Webster’s students will be the first in their families to graduate high school, making college visits and filling out financial aid forms daunting new tasks.

Amadou Diallo/The Hechinger Report
Daniel Webster High School serves 470 students in Tulsa, Oklahoma's west-side neighborhood.

The bedrock of the partnership between the school administration and the nonprofit groups is an early-warning system born out of the work of Robert Balfanz, a research professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and co-director of Talent Development Secondary. The system uses attendance, behavior, and course-grade data to identify ninth- and 10th-grade students who are at risk of dropping out and provide them support services.

“These are kids,” says Professor Balfanz, “whose out-of-school challenges are so great that if you don’t solve them it doesn’t matter how good the school is, they’re not going to stay.”

Weekly meetings to assess student needs

Every Monday, Webster principal Shelly Holman and her staff hold meetings with representatives from the representatives from three organizations. Together they review a list of students for whom the data indicates a dropout risk. Collectively, the team puts into place a plan to reach out to these students, find out what non-school challenges they’re facing, and make referrals to get the students and their families the resources they need.

Sharing data with outside organizations, let alone adopting feedback from adults who aren’t district employees, isn’t business as usual for school officials. The partnership requires a leap of faith from both the administration and the faculty. But Ms. Holman notes the practical upside to bringing in outside partners.

“Diplomas Now has given us the boots on the ground to work with these kids individually. We can take the load off of our teachers, who are under the pressure of meeting the academic standards, so that we aren’t a failure factory,” the principal says.

Bibiana Perez, a 16-year-old junior, credits her relationship with a City Year member for keeping her in school. “He was that person you could go to if you were having a bad day,” she says. “I was terrible in math. I had thought about giving up and just not coming to school anymore. At least once a week he would pull me out of math class and go over anything I didn’t understand. I would not have passed Geometry or Algebra II without him.”

Webster’s success, however, isn’t about outside groups swooping in and magically solving a long-standing problem. Shortly after she became principal in 2013, Holman instituted additional learning time by scheduling classes in 85-minute blocks, double the time allotted in other Tulsa schools. Cutting down on the time students spend moving between classes gained an additional 20 minutes of instruction time per day, school officials estimate.

Going door to door to find students

Holman and her staff have been dogged in their efforts not only to keep students in school, but lure back the ones who got away. For the second year in a row, Holman and a team of teachers and administrators went door-to-door in early September, tracking down kids who appeared on their enrollment list but hadn’t shown up. It’s not an easy task. Noting the community’s more transient population, assistant principal Ryan Buell said they rarely locate a student on the first attempt, and when their van pulls up at an address, with several officials piling out, they’re sometimes mistaken for law enforcement.

Last year, tracking down one missing student led them to an uncle and then a grandfather before finally getting a current address. “She was living with her boyfriend,” Buell said, “and working 30 hours a week supporting herself as a waitress.” She had missed so much time that she was almost a year behind her classmates. She said ‘Mr. Buell I can’t graduate.’ ” Taking advantage of the 85-minute class periods, Buell created a schedule that got her the credits she needed to graduate in just two semesters. “She graduated that May with her 2017 class. Now she’s taking classes at Tulsa Community College.”

While success stories are heartening, Holman points to an attendance rate that is still not as high as she would like. “A lot of times we know where the kids are. They’re working or at home baby-sitting. We need to rethink our hours of the day in order to serve them.” Holman also notes that it’s not uncommon for the school to enroll students who’ve just been released from juvenile detention, yet “we don’t have the resources or the right processes in place a kid like that may need.”

That, education advocates say, speaks to unrealistic expectations placed on underfunded institutions. “The traditional American high school,” says Balfanz, “is based on the premise that 15 percent of kids need extra help, 15 percent need remediation and 70 percent will do fine if you give them a good teacher. In high-needs schools, it’s like 95 percent need the additional support. We concentrate our neediest kids in a subset of schools that weren’t designed for that level of need.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 

Part 1: Rural schools unite to make college the rule, rather than the exception

Part 2: How one school is rising above gang activity to find college success 

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The Monitor's View

Raising graduation rates, one expectation at a time

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Over five years, the US high school graduation rate has risen from 79 percent to 84 percent. Even better, all disadvantaged groups saw an increase. Other measures of student achievement indicate less progress or even a decline. Yet the larger point is that many public schools are improving. One reason may be higher expectations. A surprising example: Chicago Public Schools. Despite the city’s disadvantages, they’ve shown above-average progress in raising the reading and math levels for elementary students, according to new research. One likely reason is the attitudes of educators. “Whatever kids come in here, we know we can grow them,” one principal, Tracey Stelly, told The New York Times. Teachers can make the ultimate difference in education when they understand each student’s innate abilities and qualities of thought. They can help students overcome disadvantages often seen as intractable. And with this high expectation in the classroom, more students are able to finish 12th grade, raising the educational attainment for the whole United States.

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Raising graduation rates, one expectation at a time

The graduation rate for American high school students reached a record high in 2016, according to a new federal report. Of course, such data has only been collected in a standardized way since 2011. And many public schools, facing pressure to succeed, have been accused of lowering standards to help students earn a diploma. Still, the progress appears real. Over five years, the graduation rate has steadily risen from 79 percent to 84 percent. Even better, all disadvantaged groups saw an increase.

Other measures of student achievement, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, do not indicate as much progress or even show a decline in certain measures. Yet the larger point is that many schools are showing improvements, and one cause may be higher expectations. Ever since the 1983 landmark report “A Nation at Risk” put a spotlight on the poor state of public schools, governments have lifted standards and instilled an expectancy of success in classroom learning.

Not all efforts aimed at holding schools accountable – such as the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act or the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act – have been welcomed. But no one can deny that the focused attention on education is driving reforms.

A surprising example of progress is the Chicago Public Schools. Despite the city’s social and economic disadvantages, its schools have shown above-average progress in raising the reading and math levels for elementary students, according to new research by Stanford University. One reason, according to The New York Times, are the attitudes of educators. “Whatever kids come in here, we know we can grow them,” one principal, Tracey Stelly, told the Times. “When kids come in the building, they know, ‘This is where I belong.’ ”

Research studies that prove teacher attitudes can improve – or worsen – a student’s performance are surprisingly few. Perhaps the most definitive study is a recent one by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. They used data that tracked 10th-grade students into adulthood and also measured what teachers expected of each child in future performance. The scholars showed that students randomly assigned to a teacher whose expectations were 40 percent higher than another teacher were 7 percent more likely to complete a four-year college degree.

Teachers do make the ultimate difference in education, not in positive thinking but in understanding each student’s innate abilities and qualities of thought. They can help students overcome disadvantages often seen as intractable, such as family dysfunction or poor skills in English. And with this high expectation in the classroom, more students are able to finish 12th grade, raising the educational attainment for the whole United States.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Don’t take it personally

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When contributor Blythe Evans’s house at her Peace Corps post was broken into, she realized she had a choice. Instead of taking it personally and becoming angry, she took a step back. She considered that everyone’s real nature as the child of God includes the desire and ability to be good and act in a harmonious manner. She knew the wrongdoing needed to be addressed, but the idea that God-given integrity is innate in everyone enabled her to have a calm, open conversation with the boys who had been involved. As Ms. Evans puts it: “I’m certain that if I had reacted with anger and blame, the outcome would have been different.” And there were no more break-ins the rest of the time she lived there. We are all capable of letting divine Mind lift us above the temptation to take offense and instead exercise our God-given ability to recognize man’s good and true nature. This approach inspires reformation and peace.

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Don’t take it personally

“Don’t take it personally.” Those words of wisdom were repeated again and again during my Peace Corps training program. The instructor reiterated that there would probably be times when we would feel confronted, offended, or even wronged, but reacting by taking it as a personal affront would not help or solve anything.

Later, when I got to my Peace Corps post, I shared a duplex house with a local family. We became friends, and in the evenings I often sat with them around the open fire they used for cooking. However, while I was away in the summertime, some of their family members broke into my home. It was difficult to not take this personally or react angrily, but I realized that I had a choice to make about my approach to this situation. I’ve found it’s most helpful to pause, take a step back, and calmly turn to God, the divine Mind and wisdom I’ve learned to trust from my study of the Bible and Christian Science.

Only what this one true Mind knows about its creation is true, and our Father-Mother God knows each of His, Her, children as spiritual, trustworthy, truthful, and intelligent. Our real nature does not include wanting to harm others, but rather the desire and ability to be good and act in a harmonious manner. This is true for everyone, even if someone is not behaving that way at a given moment.

An article titled “Taking Offense” in Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy’s “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” tells how “a courtier told Constantine that a mob had broken the head of his statue with stones. The emperor lifted his hands to his head, saying: ‘It is very surprising, but I don’t feel hurt in the least’ ” (p. 224). A few sentences earlier it says, “The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it.”

Ideas like this encouraged me to really consider how I was thinking about this situation. While I clearly needed to correct the wrongdoing, I didn’t want to let it become a “barb” that would simply drag me and my experience in this post down. So I asked God to show me what was true about this large extended family.

There was much good there, such as close cooperation among family members and the hardworking women’s dedication to raising their children as well as providing for extended family members living in the home. They had also been friendly and helpful to me, which I greatly appreciated while living in a country and culture that were new to me. This pointed to spiritual qualities that make up everyone’s true, spiritual identity, such as selflessness and love.

A few months after the break-in, I found out that it had been two young cousins who had wrongly entered my home. I was able to speak calmly with them about it, and the boys admitted that they had done it. We had a productive, open conversation about the importance of honesty, integrity, trust, and the need to do what we know is right. And there were no more break-ins the rest of the time I was there. I’m certain that if I had reacted with anger and blame, the outcome could have been different.

Not taking things personally but rather staying with the truth that the divine Mind alone governs its creation can help us to bristle less and forgive more. When false accusations or even hurtful actions come our way, we are free to let this Mind lift us above the temptation to take offense and instead to exercise our God-given ability to see man’s good and true nature. This approach inspires reformation and peace instead of discord for ourselves and others.

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Viewfinder

In California, wildfires resume

Ryan Cullom/Ventura County Fire Department/AP
Firefighters work to put out a blaze that tore through homes Dec. 5 in Ventura, Calif. Authorities said the blaze broke out Monday and spread quickly in the hours that followed, consuming tinder-dry vegetation that hasn’t burned in decades. Thousands of homes have been evacuated.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( December 6th, 2017 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about how the culture and economy of Beijing may change as officials evict tens of thousands of migrants from the city.

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