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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
November
01
Thursday
Noelle Swan
Science Editor

“Someone needs your help.”

The text alert came on a particularly busy Monday morning.

“A blind or visually impaired person is calling for help,” the message continued.

I accepted the call and was instantaneously transported into a stranger’s living room.

He asked me to read the amounts on some checks he was holding up in front of the camera on his phone. The whole exchange took about 20 seconds. But the satisfaction of being able to help someone in need has lasted all week.

For the past year, I’ve been receiving these calls periodically through an app that connects sighted volunteers with users who need a quick set of eyes. The calls are rare. And with 1.7 million volunteers helping 100,000 users, I know that if I can’t answer, someone else will. But I always try.

I’ve helped people microwave frozen meals, start their laundry, and avoid fashion faux pas. But my favorite call came from a man who asked me what his dog looks like because he wanted to know how other people perceive his furry friend.

I’ve discovered that I get as much out of these calls as the people asking for help. Because they help me to see, too – to see from someone else’s perspective. At a time when so much of our lives is curated to fit our particular lens that’s a valuable commodity.

~

Now onto our five stories for today, delving into the roots of compassion, the limitations of tribalism, and the wonders of an ever-changing universe.

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1. For love of strangers: Behind the Jewish legacy of welcoming refugees

For many, the question of whether to accept refugees into the United States comes down to politics. For many Jews – as well as Muslims and Christians – it is “a matter of moral commitment.”

Noelle
Bill Swersey/HIAS
Fadi Kassar (l), hugged his daughters Hnan, 8, and Lian, 5, last year for the first time in more than two years as his wife Razan looked on. HIAS, a global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, had assisted the Syrian family after their initial reunion attempt was unsuccessful.

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One of the more surprising elements of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last weekend was the alleged shooter’s targeted rage against Jewish communities aiding refugees and specifically HIAS, the Jewish nonprofit that works to protect refugees around the world. “It’s both shocking and confounding, because it’s just such a twisting of the narrative we know to be true, which is that this is our obligation, and really everybody’s obligation,” says Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, director of education for community engagement at HIAS. That impulse to help others and in particular to help refugees and immigrants has deep roots in Judaism as well as other faith traditions. And many faith leaders say that, at a time of increased division and fear of the “other,” we need even more of that sort of love. Rabbi Sid Schwarz notes that his Bethesda, Md., congregation adopted an Afghan family who was resettled by a Presbyterian refugee organization. “That’s the epitome of what it means for people of faith to join hands together with people who are suffering and who are the most vulnerable in the world today,” he says.

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2. For love of strangers: Behind the Jewish legacy of welcoming refugees

When thousands of Afghan immigrants were resettled in California’s Sacramento County over the past decade, volunteers from Congregation B’nai Israel were among those in the county providing aid, helping parents find apartments and jobs, and offering assistance ranging from literacy lessons to backpacks and school supplies. 

“We have Holocaust survivors in our congregation, and so many of us are just a generation or two removed from relatives who went through that experience or were forced to leave their country,” says Maryann Rabovsky, who has served as chairwoman of the synagogue’s immigration and refugee assistance committee since it was formed three years ago. “They came here as refugees, and so we understand how important it is to help others who are having to leave everything they know behind.”

That calling to help the “other” – to welcome strangers, to aid immigrants and refugees – is one with deep roots in Judaism, as well as other faiths, and many Jews say they feel both a deep moral obligation as well an ethical imperative from their own history. 

And it’s a message that gained new prominence this weekend when the idea of love for strangers and a faith-based imperative to help was thrust into juxtaposition with extreme hate, in the form of the shooter at a Pittsburgh synagogue, who, in online posts, tried to justify his actions by demonizing Jewish groups helping refugees.

“The radical message of the Bible is that we should let our suffering teach us love,” says Rabbi Shai Held, president and dean of Hadar, an egalitarian center for advanced Jewish learning in New York. “Another way of coming at this is that there are three love commandments in the Bible: love of God, love of the neighbor, and love of the stranger – in the modern translation that essentially means immigrant.”

An ancient text cannot be used to settle the details of contemporary policy questions, Rabbi Held adds, “but it can and should help us establish an ethos, and the ethos can and should be one of welcome. The demonization of people seeking refuge is, religiously speaking, an abomination.”  

For some Americans less familiar with refugee issues, Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh may have been the first time they’d heard of HIAS, a global Jewish nonprofit that is one of nine resettlement agencies that partner with the US government to assist refugees. Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia, HIAS largely aided Jewish refugees fleeing persecution through the 20th century. More recently the group has expanded its work to assist non-Jewish refugees, and to work to help refugees around the world, wherever they are.

When Robert Bowers opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday, killing 11 people and wounding six, he was apparently driven by anti-Semitism, but had also expressed rage online specifically against HIAS, spouting conspiracy theories that the organization “like[d] to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us.”

That rage has been devastating to those doing the work.

“It’s both shocking and confounding, because it’s just such a twisting of the narrative we know to be true, which is that this is our obligation, and really everybody’s obligation,” says Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer, director of education for community engagement at HIAS. “We’re in a time of incredible polarization in this country, where there has been a real uptick in hate speech, and that hate has been allowed to foment. This is a really tragic result of the moment that we’re in, but it also points to a patent misunderstanding of what our moral and ethical and religious obligations really are.”

Those obligations have deep roots not just in Judaism, but in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, says Mehnaz Afridi, director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College in New York (and who happens to be, as she notes, a Muslim woman heading a Holocaust center at a Catholic college). 

“For all three traditions, the stranger, the refugee, the wayfarer – they’re part of all the sacred scripture,” says Professor Afridi, citing numerous specific instances in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran where that obligation is spelled out. “We’ve all been strangers in lands, and I think that faith groups have always tried to help immigrants.” There’s a Syrian student on campus, Afridi notes, who has been helped by Muslims, Jews, and Catholics in his journey. 

Of course, not everyone interprets those traditions that way, and all three faiths also have darker, less loving histories among some sects. “All faiths share the following: If you read your tradition in the most narrow way, faith can actually encourage narrow-mindedness and bigotry and exclusionary rhetoric and behavior,” says Rabbi Sid Schwarz, author of “Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World.” It’s a reason, he adds, why “an open heart” is called for in reading and understanding those traditions.

Open hearts were in abundance in the wake of Saturday’s shooting. There was an outpouring of support for the Tree of Life Synagogue from Muslims, Christians, and other faith communities around the country.

'A moral commitment'

In Jewish teachings, that idea of welcoming the stranger is a core tenet, harkening back to the days when Jews were exiles in Egypt. “You reach out to the other, because you were the other in Egypt. It’s a constant refrain,” says Rabbi Shoshanah Conover at Chicago’s Temple Sholom. The Torah readings last weekend – the day of the Pittsburgh shooting – were about Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers into their tent, who turn out to be messengers from God, notes Rabbi Conover. “That’s where we get this value of welcoming guests,” she says. “Once we get to Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we have the mention of welcoming the stranger, loving the stranger, all of these commandments, 36 times.”  

Christie Materni/HIAS
US Together volunteer Dominic Shamas (c.) translates the names of seasonings for Jawhr Alshehab at Food Town grocery in Toledo, Ohio. US Together is a Cleveland-based nonprofit that assists refugees with support from HIAS.

For many American Jews, they only have to look a generation or two back to find instances when they, or people they know, were fleeing persecution. Held notes that his father was born in Poland and his mother in Lithuania, and that “the world into which they were born was obliterated.” But more recently, other ethnic groups around the world have emerged as the most vulnerable, pushing more Jews to look outside of their community as they seek to help, says Rabbi Schwarz.

“If we take our own experience and have the ethos to care for the stranger stop at the borders of our own community and tribe, then we’ve learned nothing from history,” says Schwarz. HIAS’s work, he says, epitomizes that drive to practice what teachings demand. “HIAS as an organization has pivoted from an organization that primarily was committed to helping Jewish refugees to, today, an organization that helps refugees because we’re Jews.” 

And even while Jewish communities have specific history, both recent and ancient, that gives added resonance, and empathy, to the idea of helping refugees – many Jewish scholars emphasize that the moral imperative would exist regardless. 

“Every year Jews try to internalize the idea that we ourselves were slaves in Egypt and were liberated,… and we’re asked to make the leap to understand how others who were strangers or immigrants might feel,” says Held. “That’s why you have such a fiercely impassioned response from a large swath of the Jewish community” not just to the refugee crisis but to the immigration issues that came to a head this summer. “The historical experience of the Jews amplifies for us what is always in place as a moral commitment.” 

It’s that commitment – and the news about the Syrian refugee crisis – that led Conover, at the Chicago temple, to help spearhead a recent effort to sponsor a refugee family. “It hit that boiling point where it felt like if we don’t do something now, we’re not living up to our ethical Jewish imperative,” she says. 

Her temple and several others in Chicago went through training with HIAS and, in the end, Temple Sholom sponsored a Rohingya family through RefugeeOne, another refugee resettlement agency. The political turmoil around refugees that has arisen during the Trump presidency delayed the temple’s efforts to help, and prompted congregants to shift some of their focus to advocacy, Conover says. And the experience of actually working with a refugee family – which arrived with a 2-year-old son and a teenage daughter, and that has another child who wasn’t able to travel with them – lent a personal immediacy to what can seem an abstract debate.

“Working with them very directly makes it very, very personal when there is dehumanizing rhetoric about who comes to this country,” says Conover. 

‘If you save one life, you save a world’

In Wellesley, Mass., a leafy suburb 30 minutes west of Boston, Michael Gilman and Debbie Gotbetter get similarly emotional when they talk about the two Syrian families their temple, Beth Elohim, has helped to support, and the six other families in the area they’ve worked with.

They were also moved to help by news of the growing Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, and both serve on the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Team associated with their congregation, which works with HIAS and Jewish Family Services.

“In the Jewish tradition and the Muslim tradition, you know the saying is ‘If you save one life, you save a world,’ ” says Mr. Gilman, speaking in a quiet corner of Beth Elohim as children run about on the floor below. “And you know, from that perspective we’ve saved many worlds.”

Ms. Gotbetter, Gilman, and other volunteers worked to set up apartments for the families ahead of time, stocking them with furniture and familiar foods. And the nervousness they felt before the families’ arrival quickly melted away, they said. Since the families arrived about two years ago the volunteers have shared poignant moments with them, and Gotbetter even served as a doula for a birth.

“I have more photos of them than I do of my own family,” she says.

Gotbetter remembers asking one father what surprised him the most coming here. “And he pointed at me and basically said, ‘You. Your community,’ ” she says. “They were surprised that we were all Jewish and have told their families, and I think they were surprised too, and it's been really powerful for all of us.”

Schwarz notes that the process of helping a refugee family was also a powerful experience for his congregation in Bethesda, Md. In their case, it was an Afghan family – a husband, wife, and four children – that they helped, and it was in conjunction with a Presbyterian refugee resettlement organization. “Our entire congregation has embraced them,” Schwarz says. “You’ve got a Christian organization helping a Muslim family from Afghanistan, and we’re Jews who are doing it. And all those pieces are interchangeable. You go to another community where HIAS is the agency, and a Christian church is taking on the family that’s coming in from Syria. That’s the epitome of what it means for people of faith to join hands together with people who are suffering and who are the most vulnerable in the world today.” 

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2. In Tennessee Senate race, a clear test of centrism vs. ideology

In an era of political tribalism, does a bipartisan centrist represent the past or the future? That’s the question at the heart of a Senate race in Tennessee pitting partisanship against statesmanship.

Noelle

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It is perhaps the clearest test of centrism versus ideology among competitive US Senate races: In Tennessee, the congenial, “old-school” Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen, a former two-term governor, is running against the pistol-toting Republican firebrand Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who calls herself “politically incorrect and proud of it.” While the two diverge on many traditional issues such as gun control, what truly sets them apart is governing style. By most measures, Republicans ought to have this seat in the bag. Yet the Cook Political Report rates this seat a “toss-up” – and a big reason is Mr. Bredesen’s broad appeal and familiarity. Both candidates have blockbuster endorsements: Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Taylor Swift broke her political silence to endorse Bredesen on Instagram, contributing to a voter registration spike in Tennessee and nationwide. And President Trump has ginned up the base with two rallies on Ms. Blackburn’s behalf, with a third planned this weekend. As Bredesen told supporters in Nashville in October, voters have “a very clear choice between two very different styles and very different ideas about what governing is about.”

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In Tennessee Senate race, a clear test of centrism vs. ideology

To watch Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen deliver a stump speech before a lunchtime Tennessee crowd, is to wonder whether one is looking at a future where US senators rediscover congeniality and bipartisanship – or at the past, at a throwback politician who is out of step with today’s take-no-prisoners, tribal approach to governing.

This grandfatherly figure could legitimately be called “old school,” and that’s the point. In this competitive contest in a red state, Democrats have in Mr. Bredesen a self-made health care executive who went on to become a respected politician with a history of coalition building – first as mayor of Nashville, and then as a popular two-term governor. He’s running against Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican firebrand who totes a pistol in her purse and has attached herself to President Trump like Velcro.

It is the clearest test of centrism vs. ideology among the competitive Senate races, say analysts.

Certainly, that’s how Bredesen is framing his message, in a state Democrats hope to flip. Sure, he talks about issues like health care, but you won’t find an “issues” tab on his campaign website. For him, it’s all about governing style.

Voters have “a very clear choice between two very different styles and very different ideas about what governing is about,” Bredesen told enthusiastic supporters at a live-music restaurant in Nashville on the first day of early voting in October. The country has settled into a type of governing that’s all about drawing lines in the sand, he said. “It’s a terrible place for America to be.”

Landmark legislation like Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act showed that the parties can’t solve big problems without working together, says Bredesen, looking formal in a dark suit and tie, but sounding folksy nonetheless. “I very much want our country to get back to that” – to the days when lawmakers argued in the halls of Congress, but then “went out to dinner or something and kind of talked things through.”

By any logical measure, Republicans ought to have this seat in the bag. While Democrats run Tennessee’s big cities, the GOP controls the governorship and holds supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. Two years ago, Mr. Trump won Tennessee by 26 points.

Mark Humphrey/AP
Former Gov. Phil Bredesen poses for a photo with Franchetta Greer as Bredesen campaigns Oct. 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn., in his bid for US Senate. Republicans would typically have this seat in the bag, but Bredesen's broad appeal has made this race a toss-up, according to the Cook Political Report.

“The state’s changed. It’s much more conservative and much more Republican than it was several decades ago,” says Tom Ingram, a GOP consultant in Tennessee.

Yet the independent Cook Political Report rates this seat a “toss-up” – and a big reason is Bredesen’s broad appeal and familiarity. He is reminiscent of the statesmanlike politicians that have traditionally been elected in Tennessee, says Mr. Ingram. 

Those include former Republican Senate majority leader Howard Baker – who was a partisan, but hammered out the Clean Air Act with Maine Democrat Ed Muskie; “new Democrat” Al Gore, who became vice president to Bill Clinton; and today’s GOP senators, Lamar Alexander, known for his bipartisanship, and the retiring Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. (Ingram oversaw both of their campaigns, and was Senator Alexander’s chief of staff.)

Senator Corker has been an outspoken Trump critic, and at a Monitor breakfast in April he praised at length the Democrat running to succeed him. Though he donated the maximum allowable to Blackburn, he said he would not campaign against Bredesen.

Indeed, Corker and Bredesen are longtime friends and collaborators, together bringing the Titans football team and Volkswagen to the state. As governor, Bredesen established his fiscal bona fides with Republicans with cuts to the state’s troubled Medicaid program, known as TennCare. More recently, he announced he would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, deeply disappointing many Democrats.

Bredesen’s is a “less partisan, gentler-messaged” campaign, Ingram says, from a well-liked politician who once won every county in the state. Ingram believes a significant number of Republicans will cross over to the Democrat. He describes Blackburn’s campaign as a more “polarized presentation” of a conservative who is close to Trump and working to become better known outside her district.

Or as Bredesen puts it, “I’m running against someone who has that very hard-nosed, partisan view. It is all about supporting President Trump, doing exactly what he wants. You know: Republicans are good, Democrats are bad – ‘Demoncrats’ as she likes to call them.” He concludes: “If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m not your guy.”

He highlights his bipartisan record in revitalizing Nashville with a sports arena, professional teams, and a new library system, and getting the state out of the Great Recession with balanced budgets, outside auto investors, and statewide pre-K.

A ‘policy bludgeon’

After a recent breakfast with supporters at Jenkins Restaurant in the southeastern town of Cleveland, Blackburn sits down for an interview about today’s partisan divisiveness, women lawmakers, and fixing a broken Senate – one of her campaign goals.

Congressional Quarterly describes this former door-to-door bookseller as a “policy bludgeon.” She’s a hard charger on issues like gun rights and tax cuts (as a state senator, she led a successful crusade against a state income tax). She’s a staunch member of the Pro-Life Caucus, chairing a select House panel to investigate allegations of illicit trade in fetal tissue by the “abortion industry.” Democrats opposed the panel. She also cosponsored the controversial “birther” bill borne out of now-discredited attacks on former President Barack Obama’s qualifications to hold office.

“I’m a hard-core, card-carrying conservative. I’m politically incorrect and proud of it,” Blackburn announced when she decided last year to run for Corker’s Senate seat. She’s a reliable GOP vote on a host of other issues, including Obamacare repeal. 

And yet, the congressman (she prefers that to congresswoman) says she is “recognized as a bipartisan leader” in the House, where she has represented her central Tennessee district for 16 years and chairs the subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

She ticks off a series of bipartisan bills, from reauthorizing the Federal Communications Commission to legislation she co-sponsored with Rep. Joe Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts that made certain hearing aids available over the counter. She’s also a lead sponsor of a bipartisan bill to make broadcasters pay artists and record labels whenever their songs are played on the radio – a natural stance, given she lives just outside Nashville (“Music City”), played piano for her church when she was growing up, and is a staunch defender of intellectual property.

Mark Humphrey/AP
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican candidate for Senate, is welcomed by President Trump at a rally Oct. 1, 2018, in Johnson City, Tenn. Blackburn has attached herself to Trump, who has attended rallies to gin up the base for her.

As a woman senator, she says she would bring a “collaborative” style and looks forward to taking part in the informal, bipartisan women’s dinners hosted by Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California. She finds today’s political divisiveness “really troubling.”

Still, Blackburn is running her statewide campaign for Senate as if she were running for her safe district in the House, Ingram says.

Indeed, that is how her campaign pitch plays out to a clutch of early-morning supporters. Though Bredesen says he won’t back minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York if elected, Blackburn pastes him to the Democratic leader, saying “his very first vote would be for Chuck Schumer.”

One by one, she goes through the dangers of a Senate led by the New Yorker. Standing next to a big, red “Stop Schumer” sign, she tells her listeners to forget conservative judges and justices like Brett Kavanaugh if Senator Feinstein gets the Judiciary Committee gavel; “you get a tax increase” if Elizabeth Warren takes over the Finance Committee; and Bernie Sanders would head the Budget Committee. “A vote for Phil Bredesen is a vote for every one of them. Every one.”

And then there's the border. Tennesseans “want somebody who is going to support building a wall,” to which one supporter, Annie Campbell, gives an emphatic “uh-huh.”

Ms. Campbell, an X-ray technician, exclaims, “She’s terrific!” after Blackburn is done. Campbell has seen Blackburn many times on television where she delivers pointed soundbites as a frequent guest on Fox News. “She’s common sense. Kind of fearless, and speaks her mind. She means what she says,” Campbell concludes. The most important thing: Blackburn backs Trump. “I’ve been a fan of his for years.”

And Phil Bredesen? “That was then, this is now.”

Indeed, Republicans cast him not only as a dangerous liberal, but as a relic.

“He’s a professional football player, running onto the field in a leather helmet,” says Michael Sullivan, the executive director of the state GOP. “He’s going to get a concussion.” Today’s Senate is not like yesterday’s, says Mr. Sullivan, pointing, for instance, to a public able to follow closely what a lawmaker is doing. If Bredesen wants to craft back-room legislation out of the spotlight, he is “living in yesteryear.”

When asked about how to fix the dysfunctional and deeply divided Senate, Sullivan says part of the answer is to elect more Republicans to stop Democratic obstruction. Blackburn adds that “the people” have a faster schedule than the Senate’s. To hasten the president’s “bold” agenda, she wants to get rid of the 60-vote threshold for all budget issues – a big leap that would deprive the minority party of a lot of leverage.

The Senate’s slow pace is a typical complaint of members of the House, where a simple majority rules the day. But the solution is not to make the deliberative Senate more like the House, says Ingram, the GOP consultant. “I don’t think anyone would suggest the House is fixed. I think it would take a significantly different approach in style and tone to fix the Senate.”

The Swift factor

On a recent weeknight, every seat is taken at the cozy Bluebird Cafe, a live-music venue in Nashville where the “Shhh policy” has everyone listening attentively to up-and-coming songwriters. On this evening, four talented young musicians take turns on their acoustic guitars and keyboards, explaining the story behind the song before pouring out their heartache or joy.

After the performance, they mix with fans, and two of them answer a reporter’s questions about a music industry bombshell: Grammy-award winner Taylor Swift breaking her political silence to endorse Bredesen over Blackburn on Instagram. Ms. Swift favors Bredesen because of her concern over LGBTQ rights and racial equality, and she urged her 112 million followers – especially those who have turned 18 since the last election – to register and vote their own values.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor
Mae Estes (2nd from l.) poses for a photo with fellow musicians after a performance at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct.18. Ms. Estes praised pop star Taylor Swift for using her platform to urge her followers to vote. Ms. Swift broke her political silence to endorse the Democratic candidate, Phil Bredesen.

“It’s risky, because by saying who she’s voting for, she absolutely could offend the entire other audience,” says Mae Estes, one of the performers. But Ms. Estes praises the pop star for understanding her “power” and using it wisely, leaving open the door for people to vote as they see fit. “It brought a lot of people out to vote that typically wouldn’t.” In Nashville, she adds, “it’s becoming the cool thing to do.”

Like all close races in the country, this one will ultimately hinge on which candidate gets more of their supporters to the polls. Blackburn has Trump on her side, ginning up the base with two rallies on her behalf. He will hold a third on Sunday. Bredesen’s ace is Swift, who sent out another Instagram message on Tuesday, picturing her and her mom in front of a giant Bredesen sign, after they voted for the “reasonable and trustworthy” candidate.

For Democrats who were concerned that Bredesen’s backing of Kavanaugh had deflated voter enthusiasm on their side, Swift’s endorsement was like manna from heaven. Indeed, several Bredesen supporters casting early votes near downtown Nashville expressed disappointment in his stance on the Supreme Court justice. 

That includes Mackenzie Hammerstrom, a newly married voter who works in advertising. “Marsha Blackburn would be a terror. She does not support women's rights,” says Ms. Hammerstrom. Bredesen, while disappointing on Kavanaugh, shares Hammerstrom’s values on gun control and health care. Hammerstrom called this a “change” election and “loved it” that Swift went political and came out for the former governor.

In the 24 hours after Swift’s first post, voter registration spiked by 65,000 nationwide, Vote.org’s director of communications told Buzzfeed. In Tennessee, registration spiked by 2,144 new voters. Meanwhile, early voting in the state has skyrocketed to historic levels for a midterm, surpassing 1.1 million voters through Tuesday, just below the pace of the 2016 presidential election.

It’s a similar story around the country – but particularly noteworthy in Tennessee, which ranked dead last in turnout in the 2014 midterms, says Katie Cahill, director of the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The test for Blackburn is whether she can pull voters outside of her district, says Dr. Cahill, while the biggest unknown factor for Bredesen is young people – the largest potential voting bloc, but historically unreliable as voters.

In the picturesque town of Franklin in Blackburn’s congressional district, day two of early voting looked like Election Day. Cars searched for spaces in a full parking lot as voters streamed in and out of the municipal office building. More than one person cited Kavanaugh as their motivator.

“I’m raring to vote,” said William Morgan, who is in the construction business. “I am so upset watching what the Democrats did to Judge-Justice Kavanaugh.” Another voter voiced similar passion over the issue, adding that he voted early because he wanted to avoid the rush on Nov. 6.

The rush? In a midterm?

But that’s the way this election is shaping up, here in the Volunteer state and elsewhere.

Staff writer Bailey Bischoff contributed to this report.

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On the move

The faces, places, and politics of migration

3. Between migrants and US border, an information gap of many miles

Making public policy work isn’t just a matter of enforcing it. Policies also need to be communicated clearly. With US border policy, that’s more complicated than it seems. This is part four in a series.

Noelle
Carlos Garcia Rawlin/REUTERS
Migrants walk the road to Huixtla, near Tapachula, Mexico, Oct. 31. The gap is growing between messages the US intends to send to would-be migrants – such as plans for a 2,000-mile border wall, or declaring that gang violence is not grounds for asylum – and the information people receive and believe.

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As the United States tightened its border last spring and summer, separating parents and children, it seemed like a message to would-be migrants and asylum-seekers: Stay where you are. But deterrence is a surprisingly difficult strategy. Increasingly, Central Americans are fleeing violence and repression, which boosts their motivation to brave the trail north, and policies awaiting them at the border. But there’s also a significant gap between the messages the US intends to send and the information people receive and believe. “I think US government officials are often naïve about how little access to accurate information Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans have,” says researcher Elizabeth Kennedy. Household internet is scarce, and tips from friends who have already made the journey are often more trusted anyway. Moreover, in countries where trust in public officials runs low, many would-be migrants are unlikely to take US statements at face value. One mother says she’s prepared to handle a “day or two” of separation from her children to give them a better life – but when she’s told it could be months, her face drops. “I can’t think about that,” she says. “I have to believe God is watching over us.”

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Between migrants and US border, an information gap of many miles

Carlos Palacio, a lanky mechanic in his early 20s, sits on a piece of cardboard on the edge of this Oaxacan town square, hiding from the sun. His eyes are heavy and droplets of sweat form on his brow. Mr. Palacio has traveled more than 600 miles with his girlfriend, little brother, and three other family members since early October. They fled their home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where the only future he envisioned was forced gang recruitment and an early death.

For Palacio, and most of the estimated 5,000 migrants traveling north together across Mexico this month in a caravan, the US serves as a beacon. It motivates him to continue waking before dawn to avoid the blinding heat, sleeping wherever he can, and relying on the kindness of locals to keep his family safe, hydrated, and fed. More than 2,000 miles still stand between him and the US border crossing in Tijuana.

But when Palacio envisions El Norte, it’s not a land of plenty. In fact, his “American Dream” is mostly defined by what it lacks: widespread homicides and gang activity, debilitating unemployment rates, and corrupt police.

“I’ll apply for asylum and enter the US legally,” he says, noting that he doesn’t have a Plan B if the US denies him entry. “I can’t go back to Honduras.”

This summer, the US took new steps to tighten its border, separating parents and children in an effort to dissuade others from setting out on the journey themselves. But compared to past decades’ migrants, most of whom primarily sought economic opportunity, many today seek refuge from threats, violence, and repression – motivations that are harder to break, and make US warnings less effective. The gap is growing between messages the US intends to send to would-be migrants – like plans for a 2,000-mile border wall, or declaring that gang-violence is not grounds for asylum – and the information people receive and believe.

“I think US government officials are often naïve about how little access to accurate information Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans have,” says Elizabeth Kennedy, a social scientist who researches migrants and deportees in Central America. Only about 15 to 30 percent of these Central American nations have household access to the internet, for example.

Whitney Eulich
José Smile and Junior Emanuel Guerra sit under a covered structure in the main plaza of San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2018. They’re from Santa Bárbara and Copán departments in Honduras. “In the US, I expect to suffer. I expect to work long, hard hours. But at least the money I make will be worth something. I can save and my family can move ahead,” Mr. Guerra says.

In many ways, the information gap has created the situation we’re in today. One where thousands of migrants and refugees trust they’re trekking toward potential safety in the US, protected by their faith in God, and often with few concrete ideas of what life will look like if they are permitted to cross the border. And one where the US government sees the migrants as an oncoming invasion, deploying more than twice as many soldiers as it has fighting ISIS terrorists in Syria, and reportedly is toying with new deterrents, like forcing parents to choose between being detained with their children or turning them over to foster care.

“In 2012, 2013, people passed through here with plans and life projects” laid out for the US, says Sister Magdalena Silva, who directs a shelter for families, women, and children in Mexico City called Cafemin. “People are arriving now with no plan. They left home in the moment they realized they couldn’t remain a second longer and their only hope is to get to the US border” and figure it out from there, she says.

“The US continues to be this ideal attracting them,” Sister Silva says.

Transmission trouble

When 16-year-old Michael heard on the local news that a migrant caravan was taking off from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last month, his interest was piqued.

“Schools are easy recruitment centers for gangs,” he says of his main drive for leaving the mountainous capital, Tegucigalpa. “I’m scared all the time, but I was never brave enough to leave on my own.” The trek north through Mexico is notorious for its risks: kidnapping, extortion, trafficking, and death.

He started to get phone calls: His friend Edwin, sitting beside him after completing today’s 28-mile trek, asked if he was considering joining the caravan. Then Julia called, then Walter, then Junior. He banded together with this small group of friends, who decided now was the moment to take their shot at a new life.

“I’m just hoping [the caravan] can make some kind of deal” with the US to enter legally, he says; or perhaps, at least, minors like him will be allowed to stay. He doesn’t follow US news and migration policy changes closely, he says – since leaving Honduras he’s focused any time on the internet to talking with his parents on Facebook. But other migrants in the group share what they know with him.

“I have a question for you, though,” the teen says, his voice cracking. “Do you think Trump is going to let us in?”

How information is transmitted and interpreted by would-be migrants isn’t very well understood, experts say. Most people rely on information from those who have migrated before, like tips about what route to take, or whether it’s the “right moment” to try one’s luck coming north. Friends and family already in the US are relied on to read the tea leaves of US policies. Sometimes official US information conflicts with what an aunt or sibling is sharing, and people tend to trust their families.

Whitney Eulich
Some of the estimated 5,000 migrants in the caravan arrive in the central plaza of San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca on Oct. 27, 2018. Temperatures reached 104F that day, and people sought out shade in every corner they could find.

“In general, migrants are pretty rational actors,” says Dorris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. But “like all of us, they often think they are the ones who are not going to be harmed.... It’s a very human tendency.” In addition, there’s a sense of “get in while you can, before they come up with something new,” a feeling that’s compounded by more drastic policy changes, like last spring and summer’s “zero tolerance” approach.

“The way people get news in the region is through word of mouth. So, what the US might think is being effective usually is not,” Dr. Kennedy says, referring to official channels like embassy notices and press releases.  And many Central Americans’ lack of faith in local government officials and media shapes how they digest messages from governments abroad, as well.

“Even if there is an explicit message, because of how corrupt the media and politicians are in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, [locals] will sometimes think, ‘Oh, so the exact opposite is true,’” she says. In 2014, when the US was telling Central Americans not to come, “Many Salvadorans took that to mean ‘[the US] just can’t have as many,’ ” she says.

Many researchers and observers say the US’s recent zero tolerance policy didn’t discourage migration. There was an uptick in migration before Trump took office, then a several-month drop off after his inauguration. But numbers started to climb again last spring, largely consisting of families and minors. Despite the family separations last spring and early summer, the many families in this current caravan of migrants say they believe now is their chance to ask Trump and the United States for help.

Bernadina Diaz, who is traveling with her three children between 12 to 16, has banded together with two other single mothers that she met since fleeing Progreso, Honduras, last month.

She says she was horrified by the family separations – but they aren’t deterring her. “It was just a day or two of separation, right? I can manage that for long-term safety and a dependable job,” she says, sitting under a plastic tarp and eating beans and rice, after arriving here in 104-degree heat. When she’s told that many of the parents split from their kids last summer are still separated, her face drops.

“I can’t think about that. If I think about what’s to come, I’ll lose the power to go on,” Ms. Diaz says. “I have to believe God is watching over us.”

Reporter’s Notebook

What I noticed first were the strollers. I knew the caravan of mostly Honduran migrants moving north through Mexico was made up of a lot of families, but still, as my skin prickled under the heat, the stream of children caught my breath. Most of the migrants walking toward San Pedro Tapanatepec this morning had set out by 2 a.m., in hopes of conquering most of the 28 miles of the day’s journey before the pounding heat set in.

But an hours-long police blockade threw those plans off course. The children being pushed – sometimes two to a stroller – were passed out or sipping bottles of hot water. Some were walking, quietly holding their parents’ hands, seemingly aware of the uselessness of a tantrum in 104-degree heat.

Guadina Reyes walked in a small pocket of migrants made up of mostly women and small children. She left her three kids back home with her mother, deciding it was safer to make the initial trek toward the US alone. “Traveling with a baby, you put your kid at risk: sunburns, they get sick, it’s too much to walk,” she says, adjusting the green towel she’s draped over her head and neck.

Even though Ms. Reyes chose not to bring her own children, she doesn’t judge those who did. “If this inferno is safer for your family than whatever you’re facing back home... you know the parents have their reasons.”

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Point of Progress

What's going right

4. How an unlikely cooperation drove an Indiana river cleanup

Industry and environmental interests are often opposed. But in Indiana, a river cleanup requiring both sides to negotiate with each other offers an example for conservation partnerships everywhere.

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On a walk near the Grand Calumet River in Gary, Ind., conservationist Paul Labus points out a native orchid called a showy lady’s slipper. He says there are more species of the flower here than in Hawaii. Though Gary is an industrial city, not known for its natural beauty, environmentalists have been working for decades to clean up the area's diverse ecosystem: In the 1950s and ’60s, the Grand Calumet River was identified as one of the most polluted waterways that flowed into Lake Michigan. “[E]very single foot of that river was contaminated,” says Caitie Nigrelli, an environmental social scientist who studied the river. But today, after a decades-long collaboration between private and public interests, much of the river has been environmentally remediated. The discharge water flowing from surrounding industries now runs clear. And the cleanup has seen success in part because of an unprecedented set of negotiations between businesses and environmentalists. “It’s not our goal to always agree – that would be boring,” says Kay Nelson, who represents business interests in those conversations. “But we do talk to one another.” 

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How an unlikely cooperation drove an Indiana river cleanup

On a walk through Ivanhoe Dune and Swale Nature Preserve in Gary, Ind., conservationist Paul Labus points out a showy lady’s slipper, an orchid native to the area. He says there are more species of the flower here than in Hawaii.

Gary is an industrial city, not known for its natural beauty. The Nature Conservancy, Mr. Labus’s employer, has worked for the past 30 years to preserve the dune and swale habitat surrounding the nearby Grand Calumet River. The area is home to an unusually diverse mix of species and this season, for the first time in many years, bald eagles have returned to nest along the river’s banks.

But the river wasn’t always so full of life. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Grand Calumet River was identified as one of the most polluted waterways that flowed into Lake Michigan. “[E]very single foot of that river was contaminated,” says Caitie Nigrelli, an environmental social scientist who studied the river.

Raw sewage and untreated water from industries flowed directly into the river from the cities of Gary and Hammond, Ind., and polluted sediment accumulated in the riverbed. By 1967, fish populations were dwindling, and the survivors were deformed.

But today, after a decades-long collaboration between private and public interests, much of the river has been environmentally remediated. The discharge water flowing from surrounding industries now runs clear.

“There absolutely has been substantial progress on the Grand Calumet,” says Ms. Nigrelli. “Sixty percent of the river, based on [mileage], has been cleaned.” The collaboration also created new models for distributing the responsibilities of large-scale cleanups, which have the potential to serve as a blueprint for other regions where industry and nature converge.

In 1972, the arrival of the Clean Water Act, administered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, marked the beginning of the end for unregulated industrial pollution. In 1987, the EPA named 40 locations as Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Of that group, the Grand Calumet was the most contaminated, with all 14 of the EPA’s pollution assessment measurements checked off. (It only takes one to be put on the list.) 

At first, Gary residents found the prospect of cleaning up the river overwhelming. But in the early 1990s, the Citizens Advisory for the Remediation of the Environment Committee – made up of members from government, environmental, and industry groups – was formed to clean up the Grand Calumet. The committee divided the river into sections, making each project cheaper, more manageable, and faster to complete. It allowed the industries responsible for the pollution to look for efficient solutions.

“Northwest Indiana is still an industrial powerhouse, and I say that positively. We’re finding out a way to have industry, dense population, and magnificent nature coexist. And the Grand Cal river is where we’re trying that out,” Nigrelli says.

As of 2012, two of the EPA’s 14 pollution-assessment categories have been cleared. The EPA has lifted restrictions on the consumption of drinking water from the river. U.S. Steel Corp. has successfully dredged a five-mile segment and removed 800,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Today, along the Dunes Highway toward Chicago, residential areas blend with marshy habitats and industrial plants. While the remediation of the Grand Calumet has been heralded as a success, a large number of remaining sedimentary contaminants still affect fish and wildlife. And the river no longer has natural headwaters; 90 percent of the Calumet is treated water from industries and sewage plants, according to the Indiana DEM.

“The river system itself is not a natural system anymore,” conservationist Labus says. 

Nevertheless, Indiana’s experiment in cooperation is drawing attention. Kay Nelson, who represents business interests in negotiations with environmentalists in northwest Indiana, says the conversations have brought about unprecedented environmental improvements, despite the different objectives of the groups involved.

“It’s not our goal to always agree – that would be boring,” says Ms. Nelson. “But we do talk to one another.”

[Editor's note: A job title in this story was misstated. Robert Artunian is a Nature Conservancy staff member.]

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5. Galactic collision ripples across eons to shape our view of the cosmos

Looking up at the heavens from below, it can be easy to think of the universe as a fixed constellation of stars. But, as a new study illustrates this week, the cosmos is ever changing – as is our understanding.

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For centuries, humans have seen the cosmos as something fairly stable and static. But we’re increasingly learning that isn’t the case. “We’re seeing that the universe is a lot more active, as opposed to the view that ancient astronomers had that things were a whole lot more passive,” says Eric Chaisson, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Take our galaxy, for example. On Wednesday, scientists revealed details of a dramatic galactic smashup early in the Milky Way’s existence in a paper published in the journal Nature. Some 10 billion years ago, our galaxy churned as gravity drew it to collide and merge with a smaller galaxy. Motion is proving more than just a fact of the universe. It’s also a key to unlocking cosmic mysteries. Astronomy has long been the realm of snapshots of the universe in a moment of time and theory building on those snapshots. But as technology has advanced, scientists have been able to capture the data necessary to piece together movies rather than simply snapshots.

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Galactic collision ripples across eons to shape our view of the cosmos

If you look at a map of the Milky Way today, you might think our galaxy looks calm and constant. But that’s just a snapshot of this moment in celestial time. Some 10 billion years ago, scientists say, it was anything but.

At the time, our galaxy was much smaller than it is today. So when gravity drew it together with another galaxy about a fourth its size, the Milky Way churned. The two smashed together and merged. Scientists think this collision could explain the mysterious inner halo and thick disc we see in the Milky Way’s structure today.

It’s difficult to discern the remnants of the other galaxy from the original Milky Way material at a glance. But with an influx of new data, that’s just what an international team of scientists did. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers reconstruct the tale of this mega-merger between the Milky Way and the now-defunct galaxy they have dubbed Gaia-Enceladus.

Such a formative collision in our galaxy’s past doesn’t come as a surprise to modern cosmologists. There have been clues of such a merger previously. And it’s now broadly accepted that structures and objects of all sizes in space move around, collide, and merge.

But we haven’t always seen the cosmos as so dynamic. Over the centuries of pondering the heavens, we have shifted from seeing the universe as fairly static and simple, to something in swirling motion and constant upheaval.

“We’re seeing that the universe is a lot more active,” says Eric Chaisson, an astrophysicist and research associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “as opposed to the view that ancient astronomers had that things were a whole lot more passive, a whole lot more inactive.”

A revolution in perspective

Throughout much of history, people viewed the cosmos as something that moved in a uniform, circular manner, with Earth at the center of it all. Models of a fairly static universe held sway into the early 20th century. But by the late 1920s, Edwin Hubble and others had begun to amass evidence that hinted the universe was actually expanding. The groundwork was laid for models such as the Big Bang theory.

From there, cosmologists have only added to the picture of the cosmos as being in constant, varied motion. The discovery of quasars in 1963, for example, further cemented the idea that the universe is roiling, says Dr. Chaisson. “We began to realize that at great distances, there were objects that were quite violent and, at the time, seeming to have energy emissions beyond what the laws of physics could explain,” he says. And now we know that there’s chaos around a black hole at the center of our galaxy, too.

Still, it’s difficult to observe motion in the cosmos because of the sheer scale. If something millions of light-years away moves a mile in a day, it won’t have shifted all that much from the human perspective.

“We don’t see things changing from day to day or even over a lifetime,” says Anthony Brown, a co-author on the Nature paper about the galactic merger and a senior researcher at the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. So for our cosmically interested ancestors, “it was a natural thing to say we were living in a fairly static universe.”

But now that we know that isn’t the case, astronomers are looking to stars’ movement to elucidate the structure of our galaxy and piece together its history. To do that, scientists are employing what has been called “galactic archaeology,” says Gurtina Besla, a theoretical astrophysicist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. They look at characteristics of the stars to figure out where they formed and under what conditions.

That’s what Dr. Brown and colleagues did to discover the Milky Way’s dramatic prehistoric collision. Using data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission mapping the stars in our galaxy, the team led by Amina Helmi at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands examined the velocity, composition, and other characteristics of seven million stars. Some 30,000 stars were moving in elongated trajectories opposite to the vast majority of other stars in the Milky Way (including our sun). Other characteristics of the stars, like their composition, are also consistent with the merger model.

Galactic archaeology

Scientists have only just begun to scratch the surface in understanding how galaxies form and influence their environs. And motion has increasingly become a valuable tool in the cosmologist’s toolkit to resolve these questions. By measuring the motions of galaxies, scientists can study the relationships between them. For example, Dr. Besla and colleagues used this approach to determined that two small galaxies near our own, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, collided cosmically recently.

Motion has opened up new ways of looking at the cosmos. Before we understood just how much stars and galaxies move around, researchers would surmise that a group of stars were related because they were near each other and had similar physical characteristics. But now, scientists can group stars together based on which direction they’re moving, too.

And that’s key. The stars from Gaia-Enceladus, for example, are intermingled with the other stars in the Milky Way. In fact, many of them are currently passing through our own stellar neighborhood. So determining that they were moving in a different direction was important to discovering they came from elsewhere.

“We’ve known that galaxies are in perpetual motion” for a while, Besla says, but measuring the speeds at which they and the stars within them are moving has proved tricky because those motions of distant objects appear very small across our line of sight, and the atmosphere can obscure such small movements. Detecting movement using ground-based telescopes takes comparing images over decades so that the movement is significant enough to rule out atmospheric distortion.

Astronomy has long been the realm of snapshots of the universe in a moment of time and theory building on those snapshots. But by taking telescopes above the atmosphere, like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ESA’s Gaia, researchers have been able to capture the data necessary to piece together movies rather than simply snapshots.

For now, that has been limited to our galaxy, and there’s still a lot left to learn about the history of the Milky Way from future data from Gaia. But hopes are high that when NASA’s embattled James Webb Space Telescope finally launches, we will be able to look even farther.

Already, scientists have looked to the rest of our galactic neighborhood and projected the trajectory of our neighbors. And it looks like more dramatic collisions lie in the Milky Way’s future, according to some of Besla’s research. Our neighbor Andromeda is on track to slam into our galaxy in perhaps 4 billion years. And before that, the Milky Way is expected to eat the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby small galaxy.

“The fact that galaxies are moving has been known in astronomy for a long time,” Besla says. “But the difference is that now we can measure exactly in which direction they’re moving, and that is a very powerful new piece of information.”

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The Monitor's View

6. Peace waves in East Africa

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In the six months since he took office as prime minister, Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed has not only transformed the often-violent ethnic tensions of his own country, he has also become a regional diplomat with an olive-branch touch. Dr. Abiy, who has a PhD in conflict resolution, has settled a dispute with Egypt over sharing the Nile waters. He has ended Ethiopia’s two-decade-old conflict with Eritrea, which in turn helped Eritrea to restore ties with Somalia. Now Abiy can claim a large part of the credit for a breakthrough in South Sudan, home to one of Africa’s worst civil wars. An agreement signed by key parties there last month came to fruition on Wednesday. The peace deal could still fall apart. Two pacts since 2013 have. What makes this one different: the rigor of negotiations. Estranged stakeholders – from refugees to armed ethnic groups – were included, not just the two main rivals. South Sudan has far to go to regroup itself as a unified country. Yet the ripples of peacemaking, coming out of Ethiopia, have started the country down that path.

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Peace waves in East Africa

Can peace have a ripple effect?

Abiy Ahmed, the new prime minister of Ethiopia with a PhD in conflict resolution, certainly believes so.

In the six months since he took office as Africa’s youngest leader, Dr. Abiy has not only transformed the often-violent ethnic tensions of his own country with an approach he calls “love can win hearts,” he has also become a whirlwind diplomat in East Africa with an olive-branch touch.

He has settled a dispute with Egypt over sharing the Nile waters. He ended Ethiopia’s two-decade-old conflict with Eritrea, which in turn helped Eritrea to restore ties with Somalia and sign an accord with Djibouti over a border dispute. The region is now ripe for economic integration.

“There is a wind of hope blowing in the Horn of Africa,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in September.

Now Abiy can claim a large part of the credit for a breakthrough in South Sudan, home to one of Africa’s worst civil wars.

On Oct. 31, after months of Abiy-orchestrated talks among South Sudanese groups, the country’s main opposition figure and former vice president, Riek Machar, landed in the capital of Juba for a celebration of reconciliation with his rival, President Salva Kiir. Their reunion, more than two years after Mr. Machar had to flee the country in a violent political dispute, was the public manifestation of a power-sharing deal the two signed in Ethiopia on Sept. 13.

For his part in the dramatic ceremony, President Kiir apologized to South Sudanese citizens for the five years of war, saying the responsibility fell on him. And Machar said “the past is gone” and promised a new chapter for peace and unity. Both men have given credit to the Ethiopian leader for his peacemaking role.

The peace deal could still fall apart. Two precious pacts since 2013 failed. But what makes this one different was the rigor of negotiations led by Ethiopia and other neighbors of South Sudan. Estranged stakeholders from refugees to armed ethnic groups were included, not just the two top rivals.

The peace process befits the words on a T-shirt that Abiy often wears. It shows a picture of Nelson Mandela with the slogan “No one is free until the last one is free.”

South Sudan has far to go to regroup itself as a unified country. It was only formed in 2011, spun off after a civil war in Sudan. Yet the ripples of peacemaking, coming out of Ethiopia, have started the country down that path.

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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.

The pressure we want

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Today’s contributor writes about a different kind of pressure, stemming from the desire to share God’s love, which gives rest to our souls, confidence for our tasks, and joy to face each day.

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The pressure we want

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Feeling pressured is usually thought of as undesirable. Keeping up with the demands of normal life is challenging for many, and much more serious for those trying to escape desperate conditions. But there’s a different kind of pressure that everyone deserves to feel – one that lifts up rather than pulls down.

This is seen in Christ Jesus and St. Paul. They were luminaries who lived under a pressure that actually gave them more confidence, strength, and joy. They faced huge demands, dangerous threats, and weariness. Crowds pressed on them for help. Corrupt powers tried to stop them from teaching spiritual ideas that freed people from oppression.

But a greater counterpressure sustained and inspired them – the divine call to show the world God’s saving love. Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Jesus didn’t see himself as a solo actor trying to achieve things. He knew he was yoked with infinite, divine power that causes all good, and called us to come to the same understanding.

Paul was frequently beaten down – literally – but the love that had turned his own life from darkness to light drove him forward and constantly renewed him, physically and spiritually. He urged people to unyoke from thoughts and actions that were less than Godlike: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:17, 18).

Christian Science posits that the big “unclean thing” that makes us feel we’re lacking something – refreshment, strength, ability, love – is believing we are self-determined beings. Jesus came to show us that we are expressions of the perfect Being, God, and gave us a model for how to live that way in the world. Even some grasp of this truth has unyoked so many from mental and physical stress. In a recent podcast on JSH-Online.com, a man told how he found freedom and new purpose after years of alcoholism by learning how to live “one on one with God” (Tom Davis, “A precious discovery,” July 23, 2018).

In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, referred to “the constant pressure of the apostolic command to come out from the material world and be separate” (p. 451). That’s welcome pressure. Seeking to know and live God’s love will raise us from fear to the freedom and happiness of life motivated by the divine Spirit. And it compels those who’ve experienced this uplifting power a little more than others to want to help others do the same.

I was moved by a striking depiction of this in the movie “The Forgiven,” based on the activity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Following the extreme violence of the anti-apartheid struggle, the commission attempted to unite the country by bringing together victims and perpetrators to find a way to go forward together. While the plot and many characters in the film are composites drawn from different stories rather than documented events and people, what came through more powerfully than the awful tragedies described is the conviction Mr. Tutu had – and struggled to maintain – that evil is not natural or unchangeable for anyone, and that this truth will finally compel everyone to come out from prisons of fear, ignorance, and hate.

Fear or anger sometimes creates pressure to change others’ behavior by force of will. But improved character comes only by force of truth and love. Jesus and many others have shown that identifying people as God’s sons and daughters makes them want to act like it, and know that they can. God, divine Love, calls us to see that we’re inseparably yoked to limitless ability and good. This gives rest to our souls, confidence for our tasks, and joy to face each day.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Oct. 29, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Eyes on a border

Jeon Heon-kyun/AP
A South Korean marine participates in a regular drill on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea, Nov. 1. The United States and South Korea are to decide by December whether they will conduct large-scale military exercises next year. South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told reporters at the Pentagon that if more exercises are suspended, the two countries will conduct other training to mitigate the lapse. He said the review will be complete by Nov. 15.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 2nd, 2018 )

Noelle Swan
Science Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when staff writer Story Hinckley takes us to the US-Mexican border, where children from Palomas, Mexico, embark on a daily commute through US customs to attend school in New Mexico.

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November 01, 2018
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