Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

The week’s news was thick with stories about control over direction-setting, from US preelection elbow-throwing to a walkout at Google over the handling of sexual harassment to the prospect of sanctions that could relieve Yemen of its devastating Saudi siege.  

Are any societies getting it right?

Ethiopia has just sworn in a woman as supreme court chief, a first. (Already half of the country’s cabinet ministers are women.)

Look also, as usual, to Scandinavia. The “social utopia” label isn’t undisputed. Danes bristled this week at a White House report that living standards in Nordic nations were lower than those in the United States (the pushback: life “quality” is about more than money). Finns marked a quirky and controversial rite of tax transparency called Jealousy Day.

Norway seems to be displaying care in direction-setting. A report by Amy Harder of Axios looks at how the oil-rich country is openly approaching moves to leave fossil fuels behind: It will decide within months whether to purge its sovereign wealth fund of oil and gas stocks, and within years whether to fund a major initiative to capture and store CO2.

That’s a path that’s probably unavoidable, Harder maintains, even though it sounds contradictory. It’s a look at “how [even] an economy fueled by oil and natural gas,” she writes, “can attempt aggressive action on climate change.”

Now to our five stories for your Friday, including a look at humanity at the border, confidence in the future of US vote-casting, and a special empathy between faiths at one university. 

Share this article


1. A border community where the complexity of immigration is lived

Schools in some US border towns have long enrolled Mexican-American students living on the other side. This humanitarian policy reveals nuances that some say are missed in the national debate. 

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Students cross the border from Columbus, N.M., into Palomas, Mexico, after attending classes at Columbus Elementary School last year. American children living in Mexico make up about 60 percent of the school’s student body. Many are the children of parents who were deported and who moved here to be able to send their children to school in the United States.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 13 Min. )

Every school day, yellow buses run from the US-Mexico border to the public schools in Deming, New Mexico. Aboard these school buses are hundreds of Mexican-American students who live in Mexico with their families and study at US public schools. Their border-crossing schooling does not raise many eyebrows in Deming, which has long-standing ties with Palomas, its sister town on the other side. For decades, Mexican families have relied on medical services in Deming, while people in Deming go to Mexico for dental care. In recent years, more parents deported from the US to Mexico have moved close to the border so their US-born children can get a better education. At a time of intense national politicking over immigration ahead of next week’s midterm elections, it presents another side of binational cooperation. “We’re going to continue to accept them because they’re part of our community. They’re our friends, our neighbors, our family members,” says Arsenio Romero, superintendent of Deming Public Schools.


A border community where the complexity of immigration is lived

With her backpack slung over one shoulder, Gabriela Corona strolls toward the US-Mexico border as casually as if she is crossing the street to school. Which, in many ways, she is.

At this early hour it is so black outside that the scrubland seems to disappear, though the bright lights of the US port of entry punch the sky. Gabriela passes walls of barbed wire, camouflage-clad Mexican officers carrying big guns, and US border patrol agents who sit on stools inside the entry building with their arms crossed. On the far side of the building, on United States soil, the passageway narrows.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Alejandra Corona, a Mexican citizen, drops off her daughters Gabriela (left) and Alejandra Corona at the US-Mexico border on Oct. 4, 2018. As US citizens, Gabriela and Alejandra attend public school in Deming, New Mexico.

None of this fazes Gabriela. A junior in high school, she has been doing this for almost a decade. She is one of the 850 students who cross the border every weekday in Palomas, Mexico to attend school in Luna County, N.M. The students are all US citizens who live in or near Palomas with their Mexican parents. It is an arrangement that has been in place for generations, long enough to become natural in a region where economic and ancestral ties lace across the manmade line that divides the countries.

Palomas seems to organize itself around the school-day outflow. Women sell home-cooked food from tables near where parents drop off their kids. On the other side of the barbed wire, an American school bus is waiting. For Gabriela and her younger siblings, Alejandra and Diego, the bus represents an opportunity to attend a better school, or even to attend school at all. In Mexico, public education typically ends at age 15.

“It’s just like, awesome, because I have [this] opportunity every single day,” says Gabriela.

Nearly two years after President Trump won the presidency with promises to build a border wall and deport unauthorized immigrants, a record number of Americans see immigration as the leading problem facing the country. Ahead of the midterm elections in November, politicians have amplified a debate about the costs and benefits of immigration, and a convoy of Central Americans marching toward the US border has sharpened the controversy. 

But people who live along this stretch of the US-Mexico border have a complicated understanding of immigration. It is not a black-and-white issue for residents of Luna County. Locals here, as elsewhere along the border, deal with the realities of keeping schools open, meeting health-care needs, and finding jobs or workers. In that context, coexistence is more important than winning Twitter wars.

“[T]he Luna County schools is an extremely interesting example of a community making its own judgments about what makes sense.... There is a different thought process behind what they are doing,” says Margie McHugh, director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

Opponents of Luna County’s education policy argue that US taxpayers shouldn’t pay to educate students who live in Mexico. But local leaders argue that their program makes economic sense: These students are the county’s next generation. They may live in Palomas today, says Mayor Benny Jasso of Deming, one of two towns whose public schools educate border-crossers, but it’s very likely they will live in the US later in life.

“I’d rather have them educated,” says Mayor Jasso, wearing a Deming High School “Wildcats” jersey with his name on the back. “I’d rather have them contributing and being a taxpayer and not be a drain on the system.”

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Deming Mayor Benny Jasso stands in front of Deming High School on Oct. 5, 2018. More than 850 students from Palomas, Mexico attend public schools in Luna County. As US citizens, these students are likely to live in the US as adults, says Jasso.

A mixed-citizenship community

Local supporters are quick to remind opponents that the arrangement in Deming Public Schools is legal. Legal-ish.

A mixed-citizenship family structure is increasingly common along the border, but the ratio of these families in Palomas, a town of less than 5,000 people, is particularly high. Some Mexican-American families move to Palomas from within Mexico for the schooling arrangement, or local agricultural opportunities, or a combination of the two. And many families move to Palomas after one parent is deported since it allows children to use their US citizenship to study and work there.

Other families’ border crossings are a product of the area’s remoteness. The closest Mexican hospital is in Juarez, two hours east, so when soon-to-be mothers come to US Customs with labor pains, many patrol officers let them through to the hospital 45 minutes north in Deming.

For decades, New Mexico state and US federal policy approved this humanitarian arrangement. In 2010, Palomas agreed to renovate a small clinic and staff it around the clock. Now only expectant mothers with emergency medical needs are officially eligible to cross the border to give birth. The new arrangement has cut the number of such births in Deming approximately in half, to a reported 52 in 2017.

Under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, children born on US soil automatically become US citizens. That’s what “birthright citizenship” is. It’s the law in more than 30 countries, including the US, Canada, and Mexico. Mr. Trump has said he wants to issue on executive order nullifying this long-accepted guarantee, but most legal experts say the president cannot do this with the stroke of pen.

As for education, state and local laws guarantee citizens the right to free public schools. Generally, students must have a local address to enroll in the local school – but it’s up to the local school district how far they go to investigate the legitimacy of the address.

Luna County schools have been accepting children who live in Mexico since the 1950s, largely due to Phoebe Watkins, a teacher who believed every child deserved a quality education. Back then, the students did not have to be American; it was only in the 1970s that the county began requiring US citizenship.

Luna County is not the only US border locale with this arrangement. A handful of students have for a long time crossed the border in Juarez to attend school in El Paso, Texas, and teachers in San Ysidro, Calif., estimate that as many as 1,000 students currently cross the border from Tijuana, Mexico, every day for school.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
A fifth-grade student shows his geometry work to a teacher at Columbus Elementary School, in Columbus, New Mexico last year. American kids living in Mexico make up about 60 percent of Columbus Elementary’s student body. Many are the children of Mexican parents who were deported and moved near the border so their kids could attend school in the United States.

But Luna County stands out from the others not only by the proportion of border-crossers to local students – of the elementary school’s 600 students, 400 live in Mexico – but also by the community’s welcoming attitude. In both El Paso and San Ysidro, border crossers hide their identity: If students are found to be living outside of the district, school officials order them to pay the full cost of tuition or be expelled. Compare this to Deming, which sends yellow school buses down to the border every morning and every night.

“We’re going to continue to accept them because they’re part of our community. They’re our friends, our neighbors, our family members,” says Arsenio Romero, superintendent of Deming Public Schools. “I think it’s just different for the people in Luna County and in Palomas. We don't really have a term for it, they’re just all our kids.”

At the bus stop

Once they’ve passed through US Customs, Gabriela and Alejandra wait at their bus stop: a dirt parking lot less than 200 yards away from the fence where their mother dropped them off.

Like other schoolgirls at bus stops across America, Gabriela and Alejandra find their friends and start laughing. They talk rapidly in Spanish about boy bands and homework. The sky turns navy and then robin’s egg blue.

Shortly after Gabriela and Alejandra’s buses pull away for the 45-minute ride to Deming, more girls and boys, many no taller than a patrol agent’s hip, flood past the turnstiles carrying candy-colored backpacks and big bows. Their elementary school in Columbus, N.M., is only a 15-minute bus ride, so younger students, such as Gabriela and Alejandra’s kindergarten-age brother Diego, come across later.

Their father, Gregorio Corona, grew up in Palomas and he remembers feeling jealous of his neighbors who were US citizens and went to school in Columbus and Deming. “I asked my mother, ‘Why can they go over there and not me?’ ” says Corona.

Deming’s schools don’t typically arouse jealousy. When grading the district’s 11 schools for the 2017-2018 school year, New Mexico – which ranked 50th in the country this year for education – gave Deming six Ds, four Cs, and one B.

But Palomas families say any US education is superior to their schools in Mexico. Public education in Mexico is compulsory until middle school, at which point families decide if they can afford high school. Corona’s family could not: He left school with a ninth-grade education.

“Before they [were] born, we always think we always want the best for our kids,” says Gregorio, as he puts his arm around his wife, who is also named Alejandra, in an interview at his house. “We’ve given [the kids] the opportunity that we don’t have here in Mexico.”

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Students board buses in the US Customs parking lot for Columbus and Deming, N.M. public schools on Oct. 4, 2018. The students are US citizens who live in Palomas, Mexico with their families.

A commuter’s choice 

It’s not easy to be a border commuter: The Corona kids’ academics are much tougher than at home and they have almost a two-hour commute one-way. It’s clear that Corona, a young father with kind eyes, pushes his kids to study hard and not miss the morning bus. But when she’s alone, Gabriela says she would still choose a US education – even without her father’s pressure.

That’s why Mr. Romero, the Deming superintendent, thinks everyone in America should spend a morning at his border bus stop. The immigration debate has turned toxic, but watching five-year-olds walk through Customs with passports around their neck might change perceptions about who belongs in this country.    

“It will change you, because you see this grit that these kids have from an early age.... They want to make this happen and they sacrifice to make it happen,” says Romero, shaking his head in amazement at their efforts.  

What opposition there is to the school program comes mostly from older transplants to the region, say city officials. But their views don’t appear to be gaining ground.

And while a sentiment of “the way it’s always been” undergirds the local support, New Mexico’s unusual system for school funding plays a major role. Whereas most other states rely heavily on property taxes to fund local schools, New Mexico pools all of its education funding and then sends the money to districts on a per student basis.  

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Signs welcome visitors to Columbus, N.M., as a border patrol car sits parked in the background on Oct. 3, 2018. More than 850 students cross the border from Palomas, Mexico into Columbus every morning to attend school in the US.

Between Deming and Columbus, Mexico commuters make up more than 15 percent of the school population, which means more education dollars for a rural district. (Deming Public Schools is the city’s second-largest employer.)

Post-Trump border realities

But Corona says he has felt a change “since Donald Trump came.” He often crosses the border using his US visa to do odd jobs like yard work in Deming and Columbus, and has come to recognize – and even befriend – some of the Border Patrol agents. Now many of them are less friendly. He says one even threatened to take his visa – something that had never happened before.

“It seems like it’s more acceptable to be able to say things that you couldn’t say a couple years ago,” says Romero. “And that’s absolutely the truth with these students.”

At Deming High, Gabriela says the Palomas kids have been treated differently over the past year. She’s silent for a minute, trying to think of the right word in English to describe the treatment. Finally, she nods her head and says “racism.” The Palomas kids and the Deming kids have always had their respective cliques in the high school, says Gabriela. But recently there have been fights between the two groups – something she had never seen before.

“The white kids say, ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ ” says Gabriela. “You should be back over [the border].”

At the Walmart in Deming, older white couples peruse the aisles with canes and motorized scooters; young Hispanic couples hold up baby clothes. Most of the workers restocking the shelves are also Hispanic. While picking out pet food, Edie Scheller talks about how much she dislikes Deming. She moved here six months ago from Phoenix, a place she characterizes as much more strict – rightfully so, she says – on immigration.

“I don’t feel safe here,” says Ms. Scheller. “You never know who is going to pop out.”

Loading her plastic bags into her car one at a time, Arlene Beem says she’s fine with the city’s school program, “as long as they don’t bring the drugs.” Her husband, Fred, takes a harder line.

"A woman gets pregnant and then when she’s in labor she comes to the border and we pay the bill,” says Mr. Beem. “[The students] will come across, bring their parents, and all be on welfare.”

Jasso, the city’s mayor, has heard this opinion a lot lately, and with the president pushing a narrative of Mexicans as criminals, this doesn’t surprise him. He understands that, to some, Deming’s busing program may look like another handout.

But Jasso tries to remind locals like Mr. Beem that educating these young US citizens is the best way to build the local tax base for a rural town with a shrinking population, as well as reduce future national handouts like welfare.

“Our whole goal is to get [children] educated. Make them productive citizens,” says Jasso. “They’re going to come back and they’re going to be the future leaders. They're going to be the next round of business people. They’re going to be the ones that are that are contributing to this community and making it a great community.”

Jasso’s own family is an example. After his Mexican grandparents immigrated to New Mexico in 1916 in a covered wagon, Jasso’s father and six uncles served in the US military. Jasso worked as a firefighter for 22 years before being elected mayor in 2014. 

These are the stories that residents here say America has largely forgotten: the best elements of the country’s intertwined history with Mexico.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Armando Chavez, principal of Columbus Elementary School, says goodbye to students as they board buses to go back to the US-Mexico border on Oct. 4, 2018. More than 850 students cross the border from Palomas, Mexico into Columbus, N.M., every morning to attend school in the US.

Border crossing as a way of life 

In recent months, President Trump has reworked the North American Free Trade Agreement after repeatedly criticizing trade with Mexico. He’s rallied Republican votes ahead of the midterm elections by painting Democrats as proponents of “open borders,” and therefore, more crime. In 2016, he carried Luna County by nearly four points, a wider margin than Mitt Romney in 2012. 

Still, in much of Luna County, “open border” isn’t a dirty phrase, but rather a way of life.

Many Columbus and Deming residents, for example, visit a dentist in Palomas. Americans who live in Columbus eat dinner in Palomas, as their own town’s two main restaurants close before 6 p.m.

Philip Skinner, a former mayor of Columbus who now drives the elementary school’s bus to and from the border, has his own favorite, Casa Mexicana. He eats at the five-table restaurant with lime green walls off of Palomas’s main plaza three or four times a week. The owner, Maritza, expects him, and she cooks Skinner’s favorite: hot chicken enchiladas with homemade chile and a sugary agua fresca.

“I’m a conservative Republican, not a Trump Republican, but I’m a conservative so I see rule of law,” he says. “People shouldn’t be crossing the border illegally.”

But then there are the kids who pile into his bus every day, bound for their American classrooms. “I’m not an open border guy. But I can also see the humanitarian side of educating these children.”

Cross-border education binds together the communities on both sides. If a child gets hurt or has disciplinary issues, Romero often calls  Palomas’s mayor, who will go knock on the door of families who don’t have phones. And whenever Deming Public Schools buys new books or desks, Romero often donates the old supplies to Palomas.

During parent-teacher conferences, many Mexican parents can’t visit their child’s school in person. Deming’s teachers used to travel to Palomas for conferences until a decade ago, says Romero, when the district’s insurance made it cost-prohibitive. Now, Deming Public Schools works with Palomas’ government to set up Skype sessions for families at an internet café.

“They’re our partners in this,” says Romero.

A father’s hopes and dreams

Corona admits it was hard waving goodbye to Gabriela almost 11 years ago when she began kindergarten in Columbus. “But we trust them,” he says. “We trust the schools.”

After she graduates from Deming High School next year, Gabriela wants to go to college in Las Cruces, N.M., and become a nurse.

But for now, at her pink stucco home in Palomas, where her dog Milo runs collarless around the neighborhood, Gabriela thinks of her diploma. It will represent more than a high school degree – it will represent years of early alarm clocks, hours of homework on long, winding bus rides, and all the mornings she spent under a cold, black sky in the Customs’ dirt parking lot.

When Gregorio Corona thinks of Gabriela’s graduation day, he sounds like many other nostalgic fathers in America.

“I thought that that would happen in a long time, but we are there,” he says, laughing.

And Gabriela’s diploma will mean something for him as well.

“It’s going to be an amazing, that my daughter can go to college,” says Corona. “She can do what I can’t. What’s impossible for me. It’s going to be a big success for her – and for me.” 


2. Arming election officials: How cyber sensors are boosting ballot security

Russia’s real success in its 2016 election interference may have been in casting doubt on the sanctity of US democratic processes. A new tool not yet widely in use may help restore confidence.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

As Americans go to the polls in an early voting season that is smashing records in multiple states for midterm elections, Brian Calkin and his analysts are on watch 24/7, looking for cyberthreats from their center near Albany, N.Y. “We are always looking, always monitoring,” Mr. Calkin says. A 12-foot by 16-foot interactive map on the wall displays in real time cyberthreat alerts as they are issued across the country. The alerts are triggered by cybertraffic detection devices called Albert sensors that have been positioned in the election systems of participating jurisdictions in at least 47 states. The center opened in March, and the sensor coverage is not yet comprehensive. But would-be election hackers can’t know with certainty where the sensors are. One is located in Florida’s Citrus County, where elections supervisor Susan Gill says she and her staff treat every ballot as if it were a $100 bill. “After 2016, our whole world changed with cybersecurity,” Ms. Gill says. With the help of her Albert sensor, she says she feels prepared. Gill, who has run elections for 22 years, is under no illusion about the importance of her job. “People have to have confidence in our electoral process,” she says. “Otherwise, we have lost everything.”


Arming election officials: How cyber sensors are boosting ballot security

Susan Gill has never met Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev.

The supervisor of elections in Florida’s Citrus County wouldn’t know Mr. Kovalev from a television repairman if he walked into her office on Election Day.

That’s the problem.

Kovalev is a Russian military intelligence officer assigned to Unit 74455. In 2016, he helped hack into the website of the Illinois Board of Elections and stole the files of a half-million voters, according to an indictment brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Ms. Gill has run elections for 22 years in her county northwest of Orlando. She’s one of the most experienced election supervisors in Florida. But it is highly unlikely that Gill would be able to detect a cyber-intrusion by Kovalev and his comrades in Moscow.

So she’s enlisted the help of a group of American specialists who can.

“We are always looking, always monitoring,” says Brian Calkin, who runs a 24-7 cyberthreat detection center near Albany, N.Y. Officially, the center is called the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing Analysis Center (EI-ISAC).

The operations center, part of the nonprofit Center for Internet Security, is staffed by 16 analysts working behind computer screens with a 12-foot by 16-foot interactive map on the wall that displays in real-time cyberthreat alerts as they are issued across the country.  

The alerts are triggered by cybertraffic detection devices – called Albert sensors – that have been positioned in the election systems of participating jurisdictions.

Albert sensors are in place in at least 47 states and 68 counties. The center opened in March and the sensor coverage is not yet comprehensive. There are 10,000 separate election jurisdictions in the United States. But would-be election hackers can’t know with certainty where the sensors are.

One of the Albert sensors is embedded in Citrus County’s election system. It enables Mr. Calkin and his colleagues to digitally look over Gill’s shoulder (from 1,200 miles away) and warn her if they detect anything suspicious.

What they are looking for is an electronic signature associated with past malicious activity. For example, if Kovalev and his comrades attempt to duplicate their attack on Illinois, ideally the signature would be picked up, they would be identified, and local officials would receive a warning of a potential attack.

It would then be up to local officials to take action to defend their election systems.

The signatures are updated continually with input from multiple government and private sector sources.

An important first step

Calkin says his center is already receiving 5,000 to 6,000 alerts of potential cyber-intrusions every month. Nearly a third of them result in notifications to local election officials.

“Every single alert that every sensor generates has a criticality associated with it,” Calkin says. “The analyst will then make a determination to either pick up the phone to call somebody or simply send them an email – or in some cases both.”

He adds: “It happens within 10 minutes.”

Election security experts praise the program as an important innovation.

“This is absolutely critical,” says Maurice Turner of the Center for Democracy and Technology. In addition to providing an early warning system to local election officials, the combination of a network of disbursed sensors and the centralized operations center creates the ability to warn other jurisdictions across the country to be on the lookout for certain kinds of cyberthreats, he says.

“It greatly increases the speed and volume of the information that is shared [to other jurisdictions] about potential threats,” Mr. Turner says. “That helps mitigate the impact of widespread attacks.”

Some 1,400 election jurisdictions have become information-sharing partners with the cyber-intrusion center. That means that if a particularly dangerous threat is discovered by an Albert sensor, they will receive an urgent warning about that threat.

There are some criticisms of the program.

The sensors being deployed are not technologically sophisticated and are only as good as the operation center’s database of malicious signatures, says Parham Eftekhari of the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT). He adds that the sensors will not prevent malware from activating.

But he stresses that deployment of such sensors is an important first step. “Compared to where we were only a few short years ago, the fact that states are deploying [sensors] and that there is so much collaboration between the federal government, [the operations center], and state/local officials is extremely encouraging,” Mr. Eftekhari wrote in an email to the Monitor.

“The trust that is being developed as a result of this process is the foundation off of which we will see the development of layered [protection] strategies that incorporate more advanced technologies,” he said.

One big question looming over the operations center and its newly deployed Albert sensors is whether it would have picked up the Russian attack on Illinois in 2016.

“We would have certainly seen those inbound attempts hitting their database and we would have sent a notification off and let them know about that,” Calkin says.

Despite the intrusion in Illinois and other actions allegedly taken by the Russians during the 2016 election season, election security officials emphasize that no votes were lost or changed. In 2018 it will be even harder to change a vote or stall an election.

“This is a huge step from where we were in 2016,” says Chris Wlaschin, a cybersecurity expert with Election Systems and Software (ES&S), which produces voting systems for customers in 42 states.

“I think in the next 12 to 18 months you are going to see a huge leap in the number of jurisdictions that have these monitors installed,” he says.

“The more that are out there the better understanding we have of the threats being posed against election infrastructure and the better we will be able to respond to those threats,” Mr. Wlaschin says.

Restoring voter confidence

At the same time, Albert sensors are by no means a silver bullet, Wlaschin and other experts warn.

Election officials must put in place multiple layers of protection, including firewalls, malware, physical security, and cybersecurity training for local officials.

Ultimately the threat is far broader than just protecting votes and voter information in a database. Russia’s big success in 2016, according to some analysts, was to interfere in the election in a way that caused some Americans to doubt the sanctity of their own democratic processes.

“What 2016 showed is that Russia could accomplish this weakening of American democracy at very little expense,” says David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“There are a lot of forces out there that want to tell voters that their vote doesn’t matter or won’t be counted and that they don’t really have a voice in our democracy,” Mr. Becker says.

“I think voters in America should be resolved, knowing that public servants have worked hard to make sure their votes do matter and that their votes will count,” he says.

Among those public servants is elections supervisor Gill, who says she and her staff treat every ballot as if it were a $100 bill.

“I’m not an IT expert,” Gill concedes. “After 2016, our whole world changed with cybersecurity.”

Now, with the help of her Albert sensor, she says she feels prepared. “I feel like we are doing everything we can.”

Gill is under no illusion about the importance of her job. “People have to have confidence in our electoral process,” she says, “otherwise we have lost everything.”


3. Nationalists of the world, unite? Steve Bannon’s populist path proves rocky.

Populism’s global resurgence has alarmed many. We look at how one of its chief American proponents may have missed a key point about the transferability of “nationalism.” 

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon has become something of an evangelist for populist politics in the West. Though no longer in the good graces of the GOP or the Trump administration, Mr. Bannon has gone on the road both in the Americas and Europe in an effort to create a global platform for populists spanning from Brussels to Brazil. The most concrete work he hopes to accomplish is creating The Movement, a political vehicle meant to serve as a campaign center ahead of Europe’s crucial parliamentary elections next May, to build bridges among populist parties that rail against immigration and the European Union. But Bannon is finding that easier said than done. The populist parties of Europe have distinct aims, based on whether they are indebted to or must bail out other members, whether they have a large influx of migrants or don’t. And those aims are often in direct conflict with each other. “There’s never been a phrase, ‘Nationalists of the world, unite,’ and for good reason,” says Ian Bremmer, founder of risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group in New York. “It just doesn’t work.”


Nationalists of the world, unite? Steve Bannon’s populist path proves rocky.

“Be it resolved, the future of Western politics is populist, not liberal.”

That’s the case that former White House strategist Steve Bannon is making as a guest in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall tonight as part of the prestigious semi-annual Munk Debates. It’s the perfect venue for the former Trump official to reaffirm his international ambitions – to create a global platform for populists spanning from Brussels to Brazil.

His appearance comes when the global liberal order is under assault, with a clear rise of nationalists at the polls and authoritarian leaders nipping at the institutions and norms in place since World War II. Mr. Bannon’s world tour heightens insecurities and anxieties, as no one knows whether something more ominous will emerge to replace or redefine the current order. And his Toronto visit has touched off a firestorm over whether giving him a platform promotes hate or serves as an exercise in free speech.

Yet overshadowed by the protest over democratic principles lie doubts about whether his ideas stand any chance of coalescing – if populists and their followers have any need or capacity to band together, particularly under an American umbrella.

In Europe, where he’s gone the farthest with a group called The Movement, a meeting point for populists that is to officially launch in January, Bannon has been met with mixed reviews. There are some leaders, like Matteo Salvini in Italy, who are seizing on the cachet of a person behind the rise of Trump. But others see him as an outsider, attempting to pull right-wing populists together where so many at the European level have failed.

“A lot of these nationalists in Europe are fairly anti-American. The last thing they need is an American busybody trying to organize them,” says Stefan Lehne, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels who focuses on relations between the EU and member states. “I think what is true is you have rise of populist parties, in North America, in many parts of Europe, in other parts of the world. This has to do with globalization, the responses to it, migration, and other other issues.

“You do have a rise of populism,” Mr. Lehne says. “What you do not have is a populist movement.”

Nationalism on the march

Bannon’s emergence on the international stage is impeccable in timing, just when mainstream parties from the Americas to Asia are losing voter support. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and a linchpin of the European Union, said this week she will step down as party leader amid disastrous electoral results for her Christian Democratic party.

Ian Bremmer, founder of risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group in New York, calls it a period of “geopolitical recession” that has been exacerbated by President Trump, but began before he took office, with the rise of China, the failure to align Russia with the West, and voter disillusionment in the West amid economic and cultural change.

“Clearly right now the momentum in democracies around the world is with the nationalists, and not with the globalists or the pro-globalization forces,” says Mr. Bremmer.

The shift in politics comes amid polarization that has deepened divisions and, at its worst, turned deadly – most recently at a Pittsburgh synagogue. It also comes as anxieties are heightened about the repercussions of hateful rhetoric, after pipe bombs were sent via mail to Democratic leaders and supporters in the US.

Bannon has become an outcast in many circles in the US. Recent events ahead of the US midterm elections have seen him pull in attendance in the low double digits. But his former position in the Trump inner circle has given him clout internationally.

Cynthia Levine-Rasky, a board member of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in Toronto, says Bannon’s invitation to this city should have been rescinded because it undermines democratic principles and flames white nationalist violence – and also has global ramifications.

“Often when we think of Bannon we only think of his role in the White House and role before that at Breitbart News,” she says. “But he has broadened his purview, his influence, his interactions, his ambitions globally. So I think it’s essential to remember not just what he did but what he is currently doing, which is in some some ways far more onerous and far more descriptive and revealing of his real danger,” she says.

Nationalists, not internationalists

The most concrete work he hopes to accomplish is in Europe, with The Movement, which he wants to serve as a campaign center ahead of Europe’s crucial parliamentary elections next May, to build bridges among populist parties that rail against immigration and the EU.

Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon delivers a speech at the 'Atreju 2018' meeting organized by the Brothers of Italy party in Rome on Sept. 22.

Mr. Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right Northern League, has welcomed Bannon to the European front. But the reception has been lukewarm elsewhere. The populist parties of Europe have distinct aims, based on whether they are indebted to or must bail out other members, whether they have a large influx of migrants or don’t. Salvini, for example, wants fewer migrants by way of forcing other EU members to take them in. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary wants no migrants, and refuses a European migrant quota system flat out.

Bannon has talked about a global populist platform from Singapore to Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right, authoritarian politician who said on the campaign trail that a “good criminal is a dead criminal,” was just elected the next president.

But like elsewhere, the Brazilian electorate voted on domestic issues – recession, corruption, and crime. “Brazil’s turn has much more to do with domestic factors than with a narrative around a global front,” says Robert Muggah, co-founder and research director for the Igarapé Institute, a think tank in Rio de Janeiro.

And Brazil, like so much of the world, has a complicated relationship with the US, where distrust is always just below the surface. Mr. Muggah says he sees no signs that Mr. Bolsonaro wants to lead a US-allied, right-wing axis in the region, despite having cozied up to Trump.

And that is a limitation Bannon will face globally, says Bremmer, whether in the EU or Latin America or Asia. “There’s never been a phrase, ‘Nationalists of the world, unite,’ and for good reason. It just doesn’t work,” he says.

But many say the populist ambition needs to be recognized, and for those who want to thwart it, it must be done with abundant debates and solutions for the disillusionment with the system.

Canada has been far more immune to divisive politics than other countries, but Ontario this year elected populist Doug Ford as its new premier. And fringe groups on the far right could be susceptible to Bannon’s messaging. Still, Michael Taube, a political commentator in Canada and a former speech writer for Stephen Harper, the former Conservative prime minister, says censoring Bannon would be far more dangerous to democracy.

“To bring these ideas out in the open is much healthier and much better for democratic society to operate in,” Mr. Taube says. “If we all want to live in an echo chamber, it’s very easy to create.”


4. The conservative Christian college where Muslims feel welcome

Being a tiny minority in a community can amplify differences. But at BYU, a common history of being “the other” leads to a learning atmosphere of empathy. 

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 7 Min. )

Brigham Young University is hardly a place you’d expect Muslim students from halfway around the world to spend some of their most formative years, perhaps. But freshman Hind Alsboul is embracing life here as one of 44 Muslim students on a campus of more than 33,000, where roughly 98 percent are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Islam, the church has at times been one of the most popularly reviled religions in America. But the student experience here offers a unique window on what acceptance and understanding look like between two frequently misunderstood faiths. Church history “makes us really aware of … people who are seen as marginally American by others, as maybe not fitting in, as being ‘the other,’ ” says James Toronto, a BYU associate professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Church members know about “that struggle to find our place in the broader polity and society, and so I think there’s a lot of empathy for other minority groups who are going through that same struggle.”


The conservative Christian college where Muslims feel welcome

The average July temperature in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is about 97 degrees.

But for five of those July days, Hind Alsboul slowly circled along the roof of her family’s home, wobbling in unsteady lines atop her brand-new bike. In two weeks, she and her parents would fly to Salt Lake City, where she would begin life as a freshman at nearby Brigham Young University. And a particular orientation course had caught her and her father’s eyes. It involved canoeing, biking, hiking – in short, many things that Ms. Alsboul had never done since her family moved to the Kingdom from Jordan, nine years before. 

Never mind that she couldn’t ride a bike. Never mind that their neighborhood didn’t have bike lanes, or that when riders did venture out under the sun, they were almost never women. Never mind that, when Alsboul finally did brave the streets, with her father riding behind in support, people were yelling and whistling and taking pictures – and she wasn’t sure it was encouragement. 

“He was like, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “You’re doing this because you’re changing into a better person.”

Today, dashing back from statistics class in a pink and white sweatshirt, Alsboul is embracing life at BYU – and is an enthusiastic survivor of her orientation. She likes the popular Sunday night singing sessions in campus tunnels (her favorite hymn is “Come, Come Ye Saints”), and the department she wants to major in, communications disorders.

Alsboul is also one of 44 Muslim students on a campus of more than 33,000: a campus where roughly 98 percent of students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Sometimes, those students say, it can feel isolating. But their experiences also offer a unique window on what ideas like acceptance, and understanding, look like day to day, playing out between two frequently misunderstood faiths.

Like Islam, the LDS Church has at times been one of the most popularly reviled religions in America – with early criticisms of founder Joseph Smith, in fact, comparing him to Muhammad, and not as a compliment. Today, that legacy has informed a quiet but firm defense of religious freedom, particularly for Muslims in the United States. Historians of the church, not all of them members, filed two amicus briefs in opposition of the Trump administration’s recent “travel ban.”

BYU is hardly a place you’d expect a non-LDS student from halfway around the world to spend some of their most formative years, perhaps. It is a hub of LDS thought and faith – and “a kind of finishing school for Mormons,” jokes Islamic studies and Arabic professor Daniel Peterson. But BYU is also a place of openness. Here at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, a string of peaks and blazing, nubble-covered slopes, nearly half of students have lived abroad, and two-thirds speak a second language – thanks, in part, to the lengthy missionary trips so many serve. An all-encompassing Honor Code, prohibiting alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, and immodest dress both on campus and off, can be just as welcome for Muslim students – and their parents – as for Mormons. And then there’s Utah: as of April, the only state in the nation where Republican officials have not publicly attacked Islam since 2015. 

Molly Jackson/The Christian Science Monitor
Dalia Abu Al Haj, a Palestinian senior at Brigham Young University, sits outside the Harold B. Lee Library on campus in Provo, Utah, Oct. 5, 2018.

Church history “makes us really aware of … people who are seen as marginally American by others, as maybe not fitting in, as being ‘the other,’ ” says James Toronto, a BYU associate professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, who has been involved in LDS academic and humanitarian engagement in the Middle East for decades. Church members know about “that struggle to find our place in the broader polity and society, and so I think there’s a lot of empathy for other minority groups who are going through that same struggle.”

Most of the Muslim students are international, including a significant percentage who identify as Palestinian or Jordanian. From a distance, Utah might well seem like the America some had pictured, a bit nervously, before their arrival. Ninety-six percent of BYU Cougars are from the United States; 82 percent are white. More than 1 in 3 hail from conservative Utah ­– the center of LDS influence since the church’s second president, Brigham Young himself, led early adherents West in the 1840s.  

For Nada Almassry, a sophomore from Egypt, BYU’s initial draw was the strength of its business program, and the cost. (Tuition for non-church members this year is $11,240; church members pay half that.) After spending her first year in the US at the University of Oklahoma, she appreciates BYU’s Honor Code atmosphere for making her lifestyle a point of connection, not distance.

“This actually helps [me]” meet people, she says, gently tugging on her headscarf and grinning, “because I’m easily stopped. ... Some people are curious, some people want to learn Arabic, some people are just like ‘As-salām 'alaykum’ [Peace be upon you], and that’s it!”

“Many people think Muslims have their religion as the center of their life,” says Hussam Eddin Qutob, a recent graduate now living in East Jerusalem, where he grew up. That’s true insofar as “we consider Islam a way of life, as a pivotal pillar.... We live by it, but it’s not the center of attention. We don’t wake up thinking of religion, go to sleep thinking of religion.” To Mr. Qutob, it’s the ties of culture, more than faith, that define the Arab community on campus. 

At home in Ramallah, “It was rude to ask someone what their religion is,” says Dalia Abu Al Haj, a senior from Palestine who is majoring in public health. Here, that’s hardly the case, she says – and sometimes welcomes it. But she draws a distinction in how it’s asked: “What is your religion?” sounds like an attempt to categorize someone, she says; “What do you believe in?” – a deeper attempt to understand. The world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, she says, “are not one big committee, all the same.”

Prayers in class

At BYU, faith infuses more than social life. Among the hardest classes on campus, for LDS and non-LDS students alike, are the religion requirements, including several classes specifically about the church’s history and doctrine.

And religion courses aren’t the only place faith shows up in class, with LDS history occasionally making its way into material from accounting to science, and the use of prayers to sometimes kick off class. 

“It can get pretty difficult from both sides,” academically and emotionally, says Laith Habahbeh, a junior from Jordan who, in his role in the Student Advisory Council, tries to look out for non-LDS students’ needs. 

Sometimes people “gift you the Book of Mormon or something, that’s not a coincidence. They would like you to read it,” Qutob says. “But it’s in a smooth way. You don’t want to read it, they don’t follow up … it’s their way of sharing their gift, and we have to respect that,” he says.

In the 1990s, as part of  an effort to send a message of respect to the Muslim world – and solve the problem of trying to teach Islamic philosophy without translations – Professor Peterson and the school created the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, up until recently hosted by BYU. The texts are a series of affordable, dual-language editions, with English and Arabic running side by side – of use not just to scholars and students, but Muslims who do not know Arabic. “So there’s no cheating, it’s the original text,” Peterson says. “It’s not us talking about them, it’s us helping them to speak.” 

Many Americans’ image of the church involves neatly-dressed, name-tagged pairs of missionaries proselytizing. But many aspects of LDS doctrine encourage openness toward other faiths, such as belief in continuing revelation.

“We’re open to the idea that there’s truth out there, and part of our job is to gather it up, wherever it is, and it doesn’t matter where it comes from,” says Peterson. “Could there have been inspiration outside the Mormon community, or outside Christendom? Yes, absolutely. We’re not only not surprised, we expect it.… It’s faith-affirming, if anything else.”

Sharing of cultures

Back in the sprawling student center, Alsboul rests outside the bowling alley, as mid-morning foot traffic picks up and someone picks out hymn variations on a nearby piano. She’s dived into learning about LDS, including the Sunday services, as a sign of respect for the community around her.

But she’d like to share her culture, too – maybe with Arabic lessons, she says, or with some of her favorite Jordanian poems, composed by her own grandfather. “I just want people to know more about who we truly are,” she says. “I just want to show that we’re better than what they hear.”

One of Qutob’s proudest moments at BYU came from choreographing a Palestinian dance, the dabka, for a student troupe. Seeing the word “Palestine” on the program, listed among the many countries whose cultures were represented at the event, was powerful, he says. 

Islam is so often stereotyped, he says, but he notices that the LDS Church is as well. 

“It’s like, I feel for you people,” he adds. “I would love to live in a world where – let’s call ourselves underdogs – underdogs support one another.”



5. 'Survivors' documentary shows Ebola epidemic through Sierra Leoneans’ eyes

Four years after the Ebola outbreak, the world is still asking questions about the country’s response. But an essential voice has often been ignored: Sierra Leoneans who survived and fought the epidemic.

Courtesy of WEOWNTV/Freetown Media Center
Kadiatu holds Ibrahim in the documentary “Survivors.” Director Arthur Pratt was determined to ensure that the perspectives of Sierra Leoneans were accurately represented in the film about overcoming Ebola.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Filmmaker Arthur Pratt was busy in 2014, as Ebola swept across Africa. Everyone wanted footage of the epidemic, it seemed. But broadcasters were looking for the types of scenes their audiences had come to expect: wailing ambulances, haggard patients. To Mr. Pratt, that seemed like an incomplete picture. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans had died. But Sierra Leoneans were also survivors and heroes. “These international broadcasting entities had a certain story they wanted to tell, and often it was about people who were ignorant, backward, and helpless,” he says. “That doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth.” Four years later, the result is his documentary “Survivors: Hope and Resilience in the Time of Ebola,” which has premièred on PBS and is streaming on its website. The film is told intimately, from Sierra Leoneans’ point of view, following first responders into homes and hospital wards. It’s meant to prompt Sierra Leoneans to reflect on the crisis, Pratt says, but also viewers abroad. “I want people to look at how they talk about and write about people outside their own communities,” he says.


'Survivors' documentary shows Ebola epidemic through Sierra Leoneans’ eyes

As Ebola swept across West Africa in early 2014, Arthur Pratt’s phone began to ring. Journalists and documentary filmmakers from all over the world were scrambling to report on the outbreak, and they needed footage. Many hired Mr. Pratt and the film nonprofit he helps run, WeOwnTV, to shoot the now-familiar scenes of the crisis: ambulances wailing as they careened through city streets and haggard patients calling out to family members through the chain-link fences of treatment wards.

But when Pratt saw his footage being used, he felt something was missing. “These international broadcasting entities had a certain story they wanted to tell, and often it was about people who were ignorant, backward, and helpless. It was a story about people who were not doing anything to help their own situation,” he says. “I don’t want to blame foreign filmmakers. But when you come to communities that aren’t yours, people will often tell you what you want to hear, what they need to say so you will have pity on them. And that doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth.” 

And so, he says, his collective made a choice. They would tell their own story.

Four years and thousands of hours of footage later, the result is “Survivors: Hope and Resilience in the Time of Ebola,” a documentary about how Sierra Leoneans acted in the shadow of a crisis, told from the perspective of those who lived it. The documentary premièred on PBS on Sept. 24 and is currently streaming on pbs.org.

Some of the characters are a familiar type. There is an ambulance driver named Mohamed, who spends his days in a blur of high-speed chases through the tree-lined streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, ferrying people between their houses and treatment centers. And there is a devoutly Christian nurse named Margaret who, dressed in a full hazmat suit, frequently bends to pray over her trembling patients. (“Are you a Muslim?” she asks one of them. “That’s good. Religion isn’t here to separate us. I just want to pray for you so that God can heal you.”) But the film also follows people on the epidemic’s margins, those simply looking for ways to carry on in the midst of a crisis. A homeless child named Foday roams a local dump, acrid smoke from burning garbage swirling above his head. He is looking for recyclables to trade for a bit of cash, picking through the heaps with his bare hands. 

Pratt, too, is there in the documentary, teasing his pregnant wife, Valrie, for becoming “fat like a watermelon.” She jokes back, claiming she married him “as a birthday gift.” But worry thrums below the surface of their relationship. Freetown’s hospitals are full up with Ebola patients, or else closed down. It’s becoming harder and harder to seek out other medical care like a cesarean, which Valrie is told she will need to have. 

“Survivors” is told intimately, in a mix of close-up footage recorded by amateur filmmakers trained by WeOwnTV across the country and scenes shot from body cameras strapped to the front of hazmat suits – shaky, jolting camera angles that follow first responders into people’s homes and inside hospital wards. 

Despite the bravery of many of its characters, “Survivors” isn’t a story of uncomplicated heroism. Mohamed is eventually fired from his job for getting in too many car accidents. While Pratt’s wife is having a prenatal checkup at a local clinic, nurses coldly turn away a possible Ebola patient, saying they are afraid to help her. In another scene, nurses at a quarantine facility brusquely separate a weeping young mother from her sick baby, quickly shouting the name of the hospital where they’ll be taking him as they speed off. 

“We want Sierra Leoneans to look and celebrate how we survived, but also to reflect” on how Sierra Leoneans face crisis, Pratt says. And he hopes the film will cause international audiences to reflect, too. “I want people to look at how they talk about and write about people outside their own communities,” he says. 

Sierra Leoneans, after all, were not only Ebola’s victims. They were also its fighters. They were its mourners. They were the ones who survived.


The Monitor's View

A record in ‘diversity’ of candidates

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

America’s democracy is now clearly more welcoming of a broad range of candidates. In the 2018 midterm elections, candidates are more diverse than ever at the federal level and in most state races, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign. One candidate is on track to be the first Native American woman in Congress. Some contests turn suppositions on their head. Mia Love, a Republican incumbent in a Utah congressional district, is a black woman of Haitian ancestry who is running against a white man, Ben McAdams, a local Democratic mayor. In contrast to many of today’s electoral contests, the two are competing simply over their diversity of ideas. That contest is a refreshing reminder of democracy’s call for voters and candidates to see themselves in a higher identity as citizens. Elections are often seen as a zero-sum contest for power. Yet if “group” is defined as those who hold certain ideas rather than views based on physical or cultural identity, democratic politics becomes easier. It allows for empathy, consensus, and compromise.


A record in ‘diversity’ of candidates

It’s taken a civil war and other struggles but America’s democracy is now clearly more welcoming of diversity in its political candidates, at least in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. In the 2018 midterm elections on Tuesday, candidates are more diverse than ever at the federal level and in most state races, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign. One candidate is on track to be the first Native American woman in Congress.

The Democratic Party, which focuses on such identity politics, is leading the trend. This year, white men are a minority of the party’s candidates. The Republican Party, meanwhile, still has far to go. Three in 4 GOP candidates for Congress are white men.

Yet in one House contest, these narrow definitions of diversity are being turned on their head, challenging a notion that one’s political perspective is determined by biology or other material backgrounds.

Mia Love, a Republican incumbent in a Utah congressional district, is a black woman with Haitian ancestry who is running against a white man, Ben McAdams, a local Democratic mayor. Polls indicate a tight race in the normally GOP district, which Ms. Love won in 2014. In contrast to many of today’s electoral contests, the two are competing simply over their diversity of ideas about issues, such as the role of government, as well as their merits as political leaders.

At a time of mass violence in the United States based on views about race, as witnessed in the recent killing of members of a Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist, the Utah contest is a refreshing reminder of democracy’s call for voters and candidates to see themselves in a higher identity as citizens, perhaps even servants to others.

Elections are often seen as a zero-sum contest for power, as if power were a limited entity and only one group can hold it. Yet if “group” is defined as those who hold certain ideas rather than views based on physical or cultural identity, democratic politics becomes easier. It allows for empathy, consensus, and compromise. Different viewpoints are easier to entertain and more easily adopted. Debate over the merits of ideas can lead to new ideas. It helps create patience, as often ideas fail and alternative ones gain ground.

Ideas may not be malleable but people certainly are. US history reflects how people can adapt, even if slowly, to the ideals embedded in its founding documents, such as the equality of individuals and truth as self-evident.

In the American past, writes historian Jill Lepore in a new book, “These Truths,” there is “an extraordinary amount of decency and hope, of prosperity and ambition, and much, especially, of invention and beauty.” Such a diversity of ideas should be as welcome in the halls of power as much as the rising diversity of political candidates.


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.

Safety and stability in a storm

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 3 Min. )

When the weather suddenly changed for the worse during a road trip, today’s contributor prayed to understand that God’s protecting love and care were right at hand.


Safety and stability in a storm

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

The kids and I recently got back from a cross-country trip. We traveled from New Hampshire to Yellowstone via parts of Canada and the United States. We had a very loose itinerary, stopping when something looked interesting, such as the Grand Canyon, the Jolly Green Giant statue in Minnesota, or the Gateway Arch in Missouri. It was an amazing adventure!

One morning, as we were leaving the sand dunes of Mesa Verde in Colorado and traveling to New Mexico, I had been watching the sky grow darker and more ominous. Suddenly a vicious storm hit. The wind rocked our RV so hard that I thought we might topple. The rain made it difficult to see. It did not seem safe to pull over, as I had no idea whether another car was behind me or in front. Nor could I see what was on either side of us.

In this moment of need, what came to thought was a favorite hymn that begins:

In heavenly Love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
(Anna L. Waring, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 148)

There’s a popular saying, “The only thing that is constant in life is change.” But this hymn pointed me to something that never changes: God. The Bible says, “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

To me, this means that if God doesn’t change, then all that He creates – including us, as His beloved spiritual children – is always protected, cared for, and watched over. Governments, jobs, houses, relationships, and weather may change. But the things that are constant are the things that originate in God, good, which we cannot see or touch – spiritual qualities such as love, life, health, goodness, harmony.

So safety and stability cannot fluctuate, because they come from God, who does not change. Accepting this as spiritual fact helps us experience it more in our lives – no matter our employment status, where we are traveling, or what we face along the way. But how this truth keeps us safe is not always in the way we are expecting.

That was the case during the storm. Knowing that God’s unchanging care was round about my children calmed my fear. And as I considered these ideas, I had a clear intuition that I should make a left-hand turn. The GPS didn’t say that was our route, and everything around us was stormy, so at first this didn’t seem to make sense. We were traveling parallel to the winds, and it seemed that if we turned, a gust of wind might broadside and topple us. But I felt a clear sense that the idea was inspiration from God, so I turned onto a dirt road called Route 12.

Within minutes, we were out of the storm. It was still stormy behind us, but ahead of us, on our new route, the sun came out and a beautiful rainbow blanketed the sky as if to say, “I will always take care of you.” I remember pulling over, embracing my kids, and just giving thanks. After this experience, we all realized that the one thing that would always be constant on our travels was God’s care and inspiration. We just needed to be receptive to it.

Yes, there are times and situations that seem anything but stable. But God’s steady care, God’s goodness, and God’s boundless love for each of us never change.

That hymn referenced earlier goes on to say:

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path in life is free;
My Father has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.

What more could we ask?



Polishing an architectural gem

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The pergola of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo, N.Y., leads to a conservatory with a reproduction of the “Winged Victory” statue of Nike. Nestled among Victorians, the 111-year old house still makes a visitor feel as if a spaceship has landed. It’s one of the best of Wright’s famous “Prairie Houses,” the architectural manifestation of wide horizons and fearless reach. When it was completed in 1907, Martin House was a cultural turning point: the first American house that was truly American. It earned National Historic Landmark status in 1986 and has been undergoing restoration since 1997. More than a century old, it’s as modern as ever. (For more images, click the button below.) – Michael S. Hopkins
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( November 5th, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

See you Monday. We’ll have the next installment of On the Move, our series about migration. Migrants who hold Temporary Protected Status in the United States pay taxes and Social Security and maintain a clean record in order to renew their permits every 18 months. Some now hope to persuade Congress to provide a path for permanent residency.

Also, a correction. An Oct. 29 story on Montana campaign finance law incorrectly characterized two details: Citizens United struck down a ban on corporate spending in politics but not all limits on corporate spending; and the nine Montana Republicans pursued by the Commissioner of Political Practices included candidates and lawmakers.

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 02, 2018
Loading the player...

More issues


Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.