2019
November
18
Monday

Thanks for starting your week with us. Today, we look at Israelis’ faith in political institutions, how Houston curbed homelessness, a Mexican teacher’s push to end violence against women, a young woman’s struggle with faith and divorce, and double discrimination in French soccer. 

But first: These are trying times for journalists. They face growing threats globally, from violence to cyberbullying to legal challenges designed to intimidate.

A new United Nations report finds that nearly 500 journalists were killed from 2014-18. Impunity is high, with 88% of cases unresolved. Syria, Mexico, and Afghanistan are the most dangerous countries to work in, but the United States accounted for seven deaths, Finland for two. Non-conflict zones became more threatening than war zones in 2017-18, reflecting the targeting of those who report on corruption, crime, and politics. Hostile rhetoric has surged, as have efforts to discredit professional, accurate reporting. As international news editors and journalist advocates gathered in New York last Friday noted, vicious online attacks have spiked, especially toward women.

What is the best response? Journalists at the gathering emphasized the need to maintain high standards and help the public better understand what journalists do. They also called for more officials to speak out in defense of a robust media’s importance to democracy.

Numerous initiatives are underway. The new Global Media Defense Fund provides journalists legal and security training. The ACOS Alliance was founded in 2014 to support freelance and local journalists. The Journalism Trust Initiative is developing metrics for the trustworthiness of journalism.

As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres noted on Nov. 2, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists: “Without journalists able to do their jobs in safety, we face the prospect of a world of confusion and disinformation.”

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1. Election after election after ... Is it harming Israeli democracy?

How long can a democracy tolerate temporary government before public trust is eroded? If Israeli leaders fail to form a coalition, a third consecutive election would prolong the stalemate beyond a full year.

Amelia
Heidi Levine/AP
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) reaches out to shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a memorial for Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah, commemorating 24 years since the assassination of the Labor prime minister, in Jerusalem, Nov. 10, 2019. Between the two rivals are President Reuven Rivlin (left) and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of the Likud party.

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Israel faces no shortage of challenges: an underfunded health care system, a national budget and multiyear plan for the military needing approval, a moribund peace process, and ever-present security threats, from Iran, to Hezbollah, to Gaza.

But as a postelection deadline to form a coalition government looms, Israel faces the real prospect of yet another round of elections. That would stretch the nation’s political deadlock beyond a year. President Reuven Rivlin and political analysts are already warning about the damage to public faith in political institutions if that happens.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz has until midnight Wednesday to form a coalition in his bid to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also may be indicted on corruption charges within the coming days.

A late October poll by the Israel Democracy Institute showed declining public faith in the system. “Just because we’re talking about government doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to complacently continue with such a situation,’’ says Yohanan Plesner, president of the institute. “The public ... [doesn’t] think another election will change anything, and they expect the politicians and the political system to sort things out.”

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Election after election after ... Is it harming Israeli democracy?

With the deadline looming for forming a new government two months after an invective-filled general election, Israel is staring down a sobering anniversary.

Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first dissolved parliament last December in preparation for an earlier round of elections, a “transition” caretaker-like government has effectively been running the country on autopilot, unable to embark on new policy directions or fund new initiatives.

There is no shortage of challenges. The nation’s health-care system and hospitals are underfunded; there’s no national budget for 2020; and a multi-year plan for the military is waiting for approval. To say nothing of transportation projects, a moribund peace process, or security: the strategic threat posed by Iran and a more powerful Hezbollah to the north, and the ever-present danger of escalation in Gaza.

But the prolonged deadlock’s biggest danger, some warn, may be to Israelis’ faith in their political system.

With the real prospect that Israel could be headed to a third consecutive round of elections that would extend the political paralysis beyond a year, the nation’s factions are pointing fingers at one another, making preemptive accusations about who will be to blame.

The parties have until midnight Wednesday to forge a compromise on a governing coalition, but President Reuven Rivlin and political analysts are already warning about the damage to public faith in political institutions if that fails. 

A late October poll by the Israel Democracy Institute testing public optimism over Israel’s democracy found a 10 percentage point drop from April, the date of the first election.

“If it were a private business that couldn’t make decisions, competition would be going ahead and it would be in serious danger of going into a decline. Just because we’re talking about government doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to complacently continue with such a situation,’’ says Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute.   

“The public is strongly opposed to a third election campaign, even though the public is unhappy about the election results,” he says. “They wanted a decisive election outcome. They don’t think another election will change anything, and they expect the politicians and the political system to sort things out.”

Indictments expected

The endgame of this phase of Israel’s political stalemate is as uncertain as ever: Mr. Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, is fighting for his political life against retired general Benny Gantz amid a cloud of dramatic eleventh-hour brinkmanship.

In a matter of days, Israel has careened from a deadly escalation with Gaza militants that briefly shut down half the country, to a race-baiting offensive by the prime minister Sunday. Mr. Netanyahu charged that Mr. Gantz was poised to cement a political alliance with Israeli Arab lawmakers who he alleged support terrorist organizations and want to destroy Israel. 

Mr. Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, is working against the Wednesday deadline, when his mandate to form a government expires. The prime minister, meanwhile, and right-wing rival Avigdor Lieberman appear to be making an effort to resolve a bitter rift that has prevented establishment of a new right-wing coalition.

And all this is unfolding as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is thought to be days away from handing down a set of corruption indictments against Mr. Netanyahu that could throw Israeli politics into even more turmoil and shift the tide decisively against the prime minister. 

“Israel’s exhausted political system has moved to a game of chicken – two cars hurtling toward one another on a narrow road. Someone needs to blink and swerve to the shoulder at the last minute,’’ wrote political commentator Yossi Verter in the liberal Haaretz newspaper. “As of Sunday, neither driver, Benjamin Netanyahu nor Benny Gantz, intends to give in. A head-on collision, which means elections, remains a likely option.”

Suhaib Salem/Reuters
Trails of smoke are seen as rockets are fired from Gaza toward Israel, in Gaza, Nov. 14, 2019. In the outburst of fighting triggered after Israel killed an Islamic Jihad leader, 34 Gazans were killed and hundreds of rockets fired toward Israel.

The political limbo, combined with the looming charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust against Mr. Netanyahu, have sharpened speculation among his critics that the government’s decision to authorize the Nov. 12 targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip was colored by political calculations.  

The resulting outburst of fighting left 34 Gazans dead – including an entire family – and dozens injured, and rained hundreds of rockets down on southern Israel.

Suspicions about timing

At an “emergency conference” of his Likud party Sunday night, Mr. Netanyahu accused Mr. Gantz of holding coalition talks with enemies of the state, and warned that a minority government supported by the predominantly Arab Joint List party would mark a “breaking point” for Israel and represent a terrorist attack on the country.   

“Blue and White are negotiating with Knesset members who support terrorist organizations and want to destroy the country,” Mr. Netanyahu inveighed. “If a minority government is formed, they will be celebrating in Tehran, Ramallah, and Gaza, like after a terrorist attack. It will be a historic attack on the state of Israel.”  

Though Islamic Jihad leader Bahaa Abu Al-Atta was described by the prime minister and Israeli army generals as a “ticking bomb” involved in the planning of rocket attacks on southern Israel, Mr. Netanyahu’s broadside has reinforced speculation that the attack’s coinciding with Mr. Gantz’s efforts to form a coalition may have been more than mere coincidence.   

“In the last year and a half, there’s been plenty of opportunities to eliminate [Abu Al-Ata] and other senior figures in Islamic Jihad and Hamas, but the cabinet has demurred from doing so,’’ wrote Omer Bar-Lev, a Labor Party Knesset member, last week. “Why has Netanyahu changed his position now, seven days before the end of Gantz’s mandate to compose a government? The answer, I’m afraid, is clear.’’

Such suspicions are shared by members of the public. Oded Ginzburg, an architect from Tel Aviv, says he also suspects the timing of last week’s assassination was calibrated to Mr. Netanyahu’s political calendar. 

“He’s playing with Israeli citizens’ minds, but Israeli citizens aren’t empowered to make any change,’’ Mr. Ginzburg says. “We’re just the audience. We’re in the crowd.” 

He speculates that if Mr. Netanyahu is nudged aside and the political crisis is resolved, it won’t necessarily lead to dramatic changes in foreign or domestic policy, but it could help bolster Israel’s governing system and the rule of law. The stalemate is a symptom of the weakness of Israel’s government, he adds, and related to political polarization faced by other democracies around the world.

No solution from public

Daniel Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University, says Israel is “muddling around” with a caretaker government, and the state of limbo is damaging for the government system. For the time being, government programs are going unfunded, not to mention the neglect of badly needed reforms in the country’s education system.

“The money that we need, needs to go to hospitals, health care, transportation infrastructure, and fixing our schools,’’ says Mr. Ben-David.

Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion expert, says the Israeli public is frustrated that politicians seem to be looking out more for their own interests. And while most want to see a national unity government, few want the leader they support to serve under the rival. 

“People don’t want third elections,” she explains, “but I don’t know if the public knows how to solve it better.’’

According to a poll by the Israel Hayom newspaper, a plurality of Israelis support a power-sharing national-unity government between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz. However, the sides won’t budge on who would start off as prime minister, and what parties would be in the government.

“I wish they will form a national unity government. Who wouldn’t want something like that in the country? But it doesn’t look like it will happen,” says Eti Dor, a hairdresser. “Each person is in their own corner. Everyone is pulling toward their side.’’

The prospect of new elections is worrying, she says, because its projected cost would be better spent on Israel’s health system. It would also be a sign of instability akin, she says, to the southern European governments that have collapsed frequently over the years.

“We’ve become like Italy,” she says.

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A deeper look

2. Houston, we have a solution: How the city curbed homelessness

Who deserves a home? To tackle homelessness, one city is rethinking that question. Houston has taken a “housing-first” approach in which a home is seen as a vital first step toward stability. 

Amelia

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Homelessness can arrive suddenly. For J.R. Richard, it arrived as suddenly as baseball superstardom.

He was one of baseball’s most dominant, and highest paid, pitchers. J.R. Richard ended the 1979 season with 18 wins and 313 strikeouts over 292 innings, and a new four-year contract with the Houston Astros worth $850,000 a year.

Nine months later, he had a stroke that would ultimately end his career.

Depressed and unable to afford a doctor’s visit, let alone rent, he moved from friend to friend, ending up under a bridge.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be homeless,” he says. “Nobody in the world expects to be homeless.”

Family and an MLB pension helped him recover, and he now works to help homeless people across Houston. The city, meanwhile, has reduced its homeless population by 54% since 2011 and virtually eliminated homelessness among veterans – making it one of the most successful cities in the state, and perhaps the country, on that score.

“A few days in homelessness, then you would really understand [what it’s like], how you really depend on other folk,” Mr. Richard says. “Because I don’t care how much you got, or who you are, you can’t live in this world by yourself and survive.”

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Houston, we have a solution: How the city curbed homelessness

Growing up in rural Louisiana, J.R. Richard loved being outdoors.

Want a 103 mph fastball? How about a 98 mph slider? Mr. Richard would recommend you spend the bulk of your childhood in the woods, throwing rocks at just about anything you can.

Birds, rabbits, 18-wheelers – you name it, young J.R. probably threw a rock at it. He credits those days in the woods around Ruston with developing his once-electrifying arm strength. Inheriting the growth curve of his maternal grandfather, who spent his days hauling logs with draft horses out of the woods, didn’t hurt either. By the time he graduated from high school he stood at 6 feet, 8 inches tall and 220 pounds.

Having never lost a start in his high school career – in his senior year he didn’t allow a single run – he was perhaps the most famous high school athlete in the state at the time. The Houston Astros drafted him second overall in the 1969 amateur draft.

He made his major league debut two years later, striking out 15 San Francisco Giants – including legend Willie Mays three times. Mr. Richard could look back on those long days in the rural Louisiana woods as time well spent.

But as much as he loved being outdoors as a kid, he never imagined he would end up living there.

His memory of the roughly 12 months he spent homeless in Houston in the mid-1990s is blurry, likely from brain damage caused by the strokes that ended his baseball career, at age 33, a decade earlier.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
J.R. Richard, a former pitcher for the Houston Astros, fell into homelessness after a stroke led to his early retirement from baseball. "Nobody in the world expects to be homeless," he says.

“Basically a lot of walking around,” he recalls. “Walking around, getting something to eat.”

When he wasn’t walking around, he spent a lot of time living under a bridge at 59th and Beechnut Streets, just a few miles from where he used to pitch at the Houston Astrodome. At one point he only had $20 to his name.

“The mind can adjust to whatever. So you’ve been out there so long you feel, ‘OK, it’s OK to be out here. I feel like I belong right here.’ But that’s not OK,” he says over breakfast one September morning in Houston, his giant hands tracing a knife and fork through eggs and toast.

“A few days in homelessness, then you would really understand [what it’s like], how you really depend on other folk,” he adds. “I don’t care how much you got, or who you are, you can’t live in this world by yourself and survive.”

At a time of widening income inequality, rising housing costs and growing housing insecurity, homelessness has stayed relatively steady. Homelessness increased by 0.3% from 2017 to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but chronic homelessness – those who have been homeless for a year or more, or at least four times in three years – decreased by 26% from 2007 to 2018.

These trends have also been playing out across Texas – except in Houston, which has emerged as a national leader in tackling homelessness. The Bayou City has decreased its homeless population by 54% since 2011, by one measure, as well as effectively eliminated homelessness among veterans. (Austin, San Antonio, and Abilene have also effectively eliminated veteran homelessness.)

In recent months, homelessness has also become curiously politicized, with Republican leaders criticizing urban Democratic strongholds over their homelessness policies. But advocates for tackling the issue are hopeful that both the newfound political attention, and the actual success cities like Houston have had, could lead policymakers to realize that homelessness can be addressed more effectively and, ultimately, eliminated. The benefits, they add, can be both moral and financial.

“I would say we’ve done well. I’m not going to give us a bunch of props, because we need to keep doing better,” says Mike Nichols, interim president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless in Houston.

“There will always be people coming into homelessness,” he adds. “But we can solve it. It’s not an insolvable problem. … It’s a finite problem, with solid solutions.”

Shift in priorities

Disagreement over how to solve it abounds. But before addressing an issue, you need to know how big it is. With homelessness, that has been its own challenge.

One of the most widely used methods of counting a homeless population is called a point-in-time (PIT) count. Homeless support groups around the country conduct a headcount of the population on a single night during the last 10 days in January, submitting it to HUD in applications for federal funding.

The PIT is an imperfect method of tracking homelessness – excluding all those who may move in and out of homelessness the rest of the year, for example, and those who are “housing insecure,” living in substandard, overcrowded, or transient housing – but it provides a good year-on-year baseline.

Houston’s homeless population peaked in 2011, with 8,538 people counted in the PIT. That was the year everyone working on tackling homelessness in the city, from HUD and the mayor to nonprofits and business leaders, decided to, as Mr. Nichols recalls, make “an organized effort to look to solutions, as opposed to [just] managing the problem.”

A few short-term goals were targeted – then achieved. One hundred homeless veterans were housed in 100 days. The next step was creating more permanent housing units linked to support services. Since 2011, the city has developed more than 4,300 such housing units, and housed 17,000 people, with 84% of them maintaining that place of living, according to Mr. Nichols.

Perhaps the most important shift since 2011 is improved organization. In the past, siloed nonprofits would focus on running a shelter, serving food, or providing clothing. Organizations and officials are now in constant communication, including regularly updating a database called the Homeless Management Information System. The HMIS lets the organizations know where an individual has been, as well as the services they have and haven’t received. It has helped the city individualize how it aids people experiencing homelessness, and prioritize the most vulnerable.

Houston also aggressively pursued a “housing-first” approach – essentially getting homeless individuals and families permanent housing first, then helping them find stability by addressing whatever other issues they might have. Alternatives to that approach require people to meet conditions, such as sobriety or employment, first before they can “earn” housing.

Numerous studies have backed the effectiveness of a housing-first approach since cities began adopting it in the 1990s. One 2015 study found that over a 24-month period, people who participated in housing-first programs in four Canadian cities had stable housing 63% to 77% of the time, compared with 24% to 32% for people who received more traditional care.

There is also a cost argument for housing first. Chronic homelessness costs the public $30,000 to $50,000 per person per year, compared with $20,000 per person for supportive housing, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

But housing first can be difficult to implement. Number one, a city needs to have enough permanent affordable housing available. Amid an affordable housing crisis – there is no county in the country where a renter working 40 hours a week on minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year – that is becoming increasingly difficult.

Number two, it can be difficult for some communities to support the idea of helping provide housing to people who may not have “earned it,” who may still be addicted to drugs, for example.

“We do have, around the state and the country, the belief that you have to pull yourself up from your bootstraps,” says Eric Samuels, president and CEO of the Texas Homeless Network.

“We used to think, ‘We’re wasting a housing unit on that person; they’re using [drugs].’ But the data shows that’s the opposite,” he adds. “All we’re saying with this is give someone a chance ... to be stable long enough to pull themselves up.”

The 2019 PIT count registered just over 3,900 homeless people in Houston. The city has benefited in recent years by having more affordable housing stock than most cities, Mr. Samuels adds. “But the dedication to doing something about it, every community can do; investment in affordable housing any community can do; and the coordination when it comes to working with people at-risk or experiencing homelessness is something every community can do.”

Personalized solutions

Homelessness can arrive suddenly. For J.R. Richard, it arrived as suddenly as baseball superstardom.

Ten years after graduating from high school he was one of baseball’s most dominant, and highest paid, pitchers. He finished the 1979 season with 18 wins and 313 strikeouts over 292 innings, and a new four-year contract with the Houston Astros worth $850,000 a year.

Nine months later in the Astrodome, he had the stroke that would ultimately end his career. When his last comeback fell short in 1984, the descent began.

He lost $300,000 in a California oil investment scam, and a dozen Arabian stallions he had bought disappeared. He lost custody of his five children in a divorce settlement with his first wife. Courts ordered him to pay her $669,000 in the settlement. He married again and bought a house in the Houston suburbs, but lost it in a second divorce. When his truck broke down on the way to San Antonio for some autograph appearances, he couldn’t afford to fix it and it was repossessed.

Depressed and unable to afford a doctor’s visit, let alone rent, he moved from friend to friend, ending up under the bridge at 59th and Beechnut Streets.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be homeless,” he says. “Nobody in the world expects to be homeless.”

If that were to happen to Mr. Richard today, resources would likely be in place to keep him off the streets for too long. But while the homeless population has been declining in Houston, it’s been ticking up in other Texas cities.

SOURCE: HUD Point-in-Time counts from Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, UTHealth School of Public Health
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Austin’s homeless population could well be much larger, but even at 4,000, that would still be just a 10th of the undergraduates enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin last year – enough to fill a bleacher section behind the south end zone of the school’s football stadium. Homelessness is not a vast, intractable problem, says Judith Knotts, an Austin advocate for homeless people, but it is complex. The solutions have to be personalized, and they have to be as much preventive as reactive.

Ms. Knotts, a retired educator and author, has been living on the streets for periodic spells since 2003. She’s met accountants who were homeless because of alcoholism. She befriended a homeless man with a second-grade education who’d been abandoned by his mother. “There’s just so many reasons [they’re] out there,” she says. “I’ve been told by homeless people, it takes two weeks before you actually feel homeless and you start to think in that way,” she adds. “We [need to] get to them before that happens.”

In Houston, that has meant finding them affordable housing – meaning both shelters and affordable rental properties – as soon as possible. It’s easier to do that when housing is affordable, and that’s one reason cities with booming housing markets like Austin and Dallas have found it more difficult to reduce their homeless populations.

A Houstonian has to make $21.23 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, according to a report this year from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. An Austinite, meanwhile, has to earn $25.29 an hour, while someone living in Dallas has to earn $23.10. The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour. 

Home prices in Dallas grew 42% between 2006 and 2018, fourth most in the U.S. over that time, according to a 2019 Harvard University report. Austin was first, with home prices increasing 55%. At the same time, shelter space in Dallas and Austin has not kept pace. Dallas has not added new bed space for several years and has seen its unsheltered homeless population increase 725% from 2009 to 2019. Austin’s unsheltered homeless population increased 34% from 2018 to 2019.

“If communities like Austin are able to have the successes Houston has had they’re going to have to develop more stock of affordable housing,” says Mr. Samuels.

Room for improvement

Austin is working to do just that, but details remain hazy. City officials came under fire this summer after passing a new ordinance largely decriminalizing sitting, laying, and camping in public places, particularly in the downtown core. The relaxed enforcement led to an influx of people experiencing homelessness to the city’s downtown. While the actual homeless population hasn’t increased significantly, experts say, complaints and fears about it have. (In September, President Donald Trump criticized California Democrats for the state’s large homeless population, threatening federal intervention.)

In October, citing his responsibility “to protect the health and safety of all Texans,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state would intervene to address Austin’s “homelessness crisis” if local officials did not act. The city council did later vote to revise the camping ordinance. State agencies began clearing illegal encampments last month and created a campground for homeless people on five acres in the city’s southeast.

“I would love to see the power of our state agencies be utilized to [address] this situation ... in a way that is positive and collaborative,” says Mr. Samuels. “I hope that more attention and resources are drawn to the issue. Perhaps that is naive but that is my hope.”

Resources are important, but for Mr. Richard they pale in significance to the resources a person experiencing homelessness has to marshal within themselves.

“You can’t help nobody that doesn’t want to help themselves,” he says. “If you want to get out of homelessness you can get out the homeless, but it’s in you to get out of homelessness.”

On that point at least, Ms. Knotts disagrees with him. Personal responsibility is important, she says, but what everybody needs is “one person who believes in you and helps you.”

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Judith Knotts, a retired educator in Austin, advocates for people experiencing homelessness. Skyrocketing home values have made securing permanent housing and reducing homelessness difficult in cities like Austin.

“No matter how fabulous all the policies and decisions they make [are] about what center’s going to open and who’s going to go there,” says Ms. Knotts, “that’s all for naught unless each homeless person has [someone] cheering them on.”

“That’s something we as laypeople, we as not homeless people, that’s something we could do.”

Like most other experts, she doesn’t think America will ever reach zero homelessness. There will always be people who don’t want to leave the streets, she says, but “we’re really getting better.”

Houston still has room for improvement, Mr. Nichols says, noting the 27,000 children in the tricounty area who were homeless and insecurely housed last year.

There will always be some homelessness, Mr. Nichols adds, “but we ought to have a system to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-reoccurring.”

“That’s our goal,” he continues. “And again I think that’s possible.” 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of supportive housing units Houston has developed since 2011.

SOURCE: HUD Point-in-Time counts from Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County, UTHealth School of Public Health
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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3. In one of Mexico’s most dangerous places for women, his students push back

It doesn’t have to be this way. That’s the simple but powerful message one teacher is helping his students communicate in Ecatepec, where high rates of gender-based violence have become the norm. 

Amelia
Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Students in teacher Manuel Amador's after-school workshop in Ecatepec, Mexico, discuss one of their upcoming pieces of performance art, which push back against widespread gender-based violence in their community.

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At rush hour, as the highway to Mexico City is clogged with barreling micro-buses and minivans, Manuel Amador is going the other direction.

His destination is Ecatepec, a dense, labyrinthine neighborhood of 1.7 million an hour outside the capital. It’s where he’s been a high-school teacher for nearly 10 years. And it’s one of the country’s most dangerous places to be a woman.

As Mexico reckons with an uptick in femicide, or the murder of women for being women, the state where Ecatepec sits is one of the hot spots. More than 92% of residents in the community say they feel unsafe, according to a recent survey. 

Mr. Amador says his radar went off when he heard students talk about the pervasive violence and fear – and how no one seemed to denounce it. So he did something. In his extracurricular workshops, whose influence has grown beyond school walls, he helps students craft performance art to counter the acceptance many people feel about the deaths and assaults. 

“Here I feel good, because this is the first man, or at least the first man I know, who recognizes this problem and tries to solve it,” says a student named Jasmin. “He’s not like other men who say, ‘Here they go again with their sermons.’”

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In one of Mexico’s most dangerous places for women, his students push back

The skirt stands in the middle of a rock-strewn patch in the schoolyard. As the gray plaster that the students have coated over it dries in the midday sun, their teacher, Manuel Amador, asks them to imagine wearing it, and breaking free.

It’s part of the newest protest against gender violence that he’s helping students create at this public high school in Ecatepec, about an hour north of Mexico City and one of the country’s most dangerous places to be a woman. 

One by one, the handful of teens who have stayed after school for the workshop show movements they’ve chosen to incorporate into the performance piece. The idea is that they will each wear a dried skirt over a brightly colored dress. After they break free of the skirt, they will flail their arms or jerk their heads back to represent hope and emancipation from silence.

“The skirt of rock came from the idea of immobility that women feel,” says Mr. Amador. His goal, he says, is to counter the acceptance too many people feel about violence in their homes, and their relationships – or about the statistics on femicides, domestic violence, and disappearances that mount around them. 

“The moment that they are performing in a public space or in the school, they are combating the normalization of violence here,” he says – and learning how to discuss it in their homes, or with their friends at school. 

It’s been nearly 10 years since Mr. Amador, who was born in the poor, mountainous north of the state of Puebla, began working at this school in Ecatepec. After studying sociology in college and working in human rights for minorities, including for indigenous and LGBT communities in Mexico City, he says his radar went off as he listened to the talk in the hallways about violence – and how no one seemed to denounce it. He began his extracurricular workshop, which he calls “Women, Art, and Politics.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Manuel Amador began his extracurricular workshop to help students discuss, and challenge, the violence around them. “The moment that they are performing in a public space or in the school, they are combating the normalization of violence here,” he says.

Violence in the spotlight

While the highway that links Ecatepec to Mexico City is clogged during rush hour with precarious microbuses and minivans barreling down the roadway taking nannies or restaurant workers to jobs in the capital, Mr. Amador does the reverse commute in the darkness, in time for the first school bell.

Ecatepec is a dense, labyrinthine neighborhood where residents grasp for a sense of safety. According to a recent government survey, 92.5% of residents here say they feel unsafe, among the highest rates of perceived insecurity in the country.

“Here I don’t think anybody is spared from being assaulted, at one time or another,” says school Principal Leticia Fragoso Martínez.

In fact as Mexico reckons with an uptick in femicide, or the murder of women for being women, the state where Ecatepec sits is one of the hot spots.

The National Citizen Observatory on Femicide documented 1,413 deaths of women between 2014 and 2017 in this state, of which just over 16% were investigated as femicides – though experts say the actual percentage likely is vastly higher. Ecatepec has been selected as one of five municipalities to receive funding and support from the United Nations’ Spotlight Initiative in Mexico to eliminate violence against women and girls.

The initiative, which is also funded by the European Union, launched in Mexico in the spring and revolves around six pillars, one of which is to combat the mindset that perpetuates gender violence – one of Mr. Amador’s key aims.

On a recent school day, the bell rings and students in dark-blue uniforms head raucously back home. But half a dozen stick around for the extracurricular workshop, including one boy. 

Mr. Amador calls Brenda to the front to show the movement she has created, her arms circling out from her sides. “This represents the despair of never knowing when there will be a beating,” she explains, “and the liberation from silence.” (Only first names are used to protect students’ privacy.)

She is 15 years old. “Girls and children this young have to talk about something so heavy,” says Mr. Amador. But their giggles and interruptions, and their teacher’s sometimes vain attempts to refocus their attention, reveal their youth.

Mr. Amador shows photos from a decade of work, which he estimates amounts to about 50 performances. His students have acted out beatings, hurled dolls and flowers to the ground, painted their faces black in bruises, or dressed in red to symbolize blood. They have worn garbage bags over their heads, and made dresses out of garbage.

They are not always appreciated. At one performance that took them to the streets around the school, Mr. Amador recalls a woman hissing, “Stop this nonsense. Go back to the classroom to study.”

With so many needs in the community, including high poverty and crime and many single and teenage parents, says Ms. Fragoso Martínez, the workshops are a form of counseling. “Maestro Manuel gives the girls the opportunity to be listened to,” she says.

Changing the conversation

On a recent day, the jeans-clad Mr. Amador is bantering easily with students, acting as a sounding board about life outside the classroom. Today, the class gets into a debate about feminists protesting in Mexico City who have vandalized iconic landmarks, and whether that’s a valid way to express rage. Mr. Amador gently challenges students to think more deeply. “You are only first-year students,” he jokes. “Wait until your third year. You will be warriors.”

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Students discuss choreography for their next performance in Ecatepec, one of Mexico's most violent places for women.

“Here I feel good, because this is the first man, or at least the first man I know, who recognizes this problem and tries to solve it,” says a student named Jasmin. “He’s not like other men who say, ‘Here they go again with their sermons.’”

“Everyone says in Ecatepec, ‘Don’t enter there, because they kill women there,’” adds a student named Yolotzin. “We have to fight against the normalization of this, and learn how to express our despair and fear of suffering any kind of violence.”

Mr. Amador’s work has grown beyond these school walls. The coordinator for the Spotlight Initiative in Mexico speaks with him often. He has given workshops to university classes, while feminist groups – many of them made up of his former students – have adopted his style of performance art. On a recent Sunday, activist groups led a caravan through the streets of Ecatepec at the sites of murders of girls and women, dressed in purple and calling out the names of the victims. Mr. Amador was there with them.

Andrea Medina, a lawyer in Mexico City who works with victims of gender violence, says this work is particularly important here in the periphery of the capital, where gender norms are stricter. “To generate creative spaces in a place like Ecatepec that can be so destructive is important,” she says. “This is the potential that schools and university institutions have, and that so few are taking on. [Mr. Amador] managed to do it.” It’s why his students say they keep coming back, even if performances can feel insignificant against the problem they are tackling.

Mr. Amador is “reclaiming” space to reflect, Ms. Medina adds, “and saying, ‘This is not normal. I don’t want to live like this.’”

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The Ten

How people use the Commandments in daily life

4. ‘Growing up is hard’: How Fifth Commandment guided a child during divorce

For teens, respecting parents can sometimes be thorny. But Megan Kacenski, whose parents divorced, shares how her faith helped change her attitude. Part 6 in a series looking at the Ten Commandments through modern lives.

Amelia
Sabina Louise Pierce/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Megan Kacenski works for the national tree care company that her extended family owns. When she's challenged by the physically demanding job, it's not unheard-of for her to lean on a Bible verse.

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When Megan Kacenski was in sixth grade, her parents told her they were getting divorced. She hadn’t seen it coming. “You have a tendency to be mad,” she says.

It wasn’t until college, she says, that she fully accepted the divorce. Raised Roman Catholic, she got involved with the Catholic Newman Center. “In college I made my faith my own,” she says. And the process of exploring the imperatives of her faith strengthened her relationships with her parents, she believes.

Ms. Kacenski talked with the Monitor about the Fifth Commandment, which begins, “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Her conversation is part of our series examining the ways ancient religious ideas like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in today’s world.

These days Ms. Kacenski, who is in her 20s, talks with her mom on the phone every day, and her dad once a week. She looks forward to spending time with each of them.

“When I was younger, I took the Commandment as, ‘They’re your parents. You have to respect them,’” she says. “[Now] I interpret it as it should be a mutual respect. ... I care what’s going on in their life.”

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‘Growing up is hard’: How Fifth Commandment guided a child during divorce

Megan Kacenski is up a tree – her seventh tree of the day, in fact. By now her arms feel too exhausted to lift her chain saw, let alone make a cut. Her crew is growing impatient on the ground, waiting for her to get it together, prune the limb, and move on. Then, oddly enough, a Bible verse pops into her mind: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” And the 20-something makes the cut.

Why does Ms. Kacenski even want to be in this place, 120 feet in the air, when she could be safely in an office? For her, it’s about love: “I started climbing and working in the field, and I fell in love with it,” she says. She’s starting, ostensibly, at the “bottom” in her training for the national tree care company that her extended family owns. “I love being outside with the different types of trees, the different challenges. It’s very physical.”

Ms. Kacenski got to this place of opportunity with the help of the Fifth Commandment, which directed her to persist during family troubles and ultimately guided her to new relationships with her parents, who encourage her to soar. Ms. Kacenski spoke with the Monitor about the Fifth Commandment – Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12) – as part of our series about the ways in which ancient principles like the Commandments continue to matter in today’s world.

“I think this Commandment is something young people struggle with the most. Growing up is hard,” she says, surrounded by the trees that constitute her work. Now a grown-up herself – and with an awareness perhaps beyond her years – she sees the Commandment as not just an obligation but an opportunity. The key for her, she says, has been “adapting to change and still finding love in the [parent-child] relationship.”

Sabina Louise Pierce/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Megan Kacenski shows a ring that her mother bought for her. It says "she is strong" in French around the outside, and inside, it has "31:25" engraved – a reference to a Bible verse from Proverbs that has become a credo of sorts for Ms. Kacenski.

Ms. Kacenski needed to start adapting in the sixth grade, when her parents sat their two children down to tell them they were getting divorced. She hadn’t seen it coming. “You have a tendency to be mad,” she says.

She was at an age when relationships with parents can get testy even in the best of circumstances. Raised Roman Catholic and attending Catholic school, she knew her Commandments well, and knew she wasn’t doing much honoring of her parents at the time. She’d come home from school and head immediately to her room to “study.” She’d play her parents off each other. “I knew I was being difficult. I knew I couldn’t blame them and take everything out on them. I knew it was wrong to hole up in my room,” she says.

She also questioned whether her parents were honoring their own faith commitments: “A lot of times in high school when religion teachers would discuss [marriage], it was upsetting that my parents made a decision that the church doesn’t necessarily approve of.”

She managed her emotions by keeping a journal. She also searched online for understanding, and it was there that she came across Proverbs 31, describing a virtuous woman as laughing “without fear of the future.” The verse became her credo of sorts, and she began writing “31:25” on her hand when facing stress. Her mother eventually bought her a ring with the verse on it. “I think she was afraid I’d get it tattooed,” Ms. Kacenski says. Still today, the proverb, as well as a French variation, elle est forte (she is strong), pops up when she needs it most. “It always calms me down,” she says.

At college, a turning point

It wasn’t until college, she says, that she understood and fully accepted the divorce. “I needed to remove myself from it to see it,” says Ms. Kacenski, who grew up in Connecticut. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she got involved with campus ministry at the Catholic Newman Center. There she found friends, a Bible study group, a chapel for moments of respite, a priest skilled at applying the Gospels to real-life situations, and leadership opportunities. “In college I made my faith my own. I was able to choose being a Catholic,” she says. And the process of exploring the imperatives of her faith strengthened her relationships with her parents, she believes. It was a matter of “learning what you’re supposed to do, and following through with that.”

Mary Murphy, Ms. Kacenski’s mother, attributes the family’s ability to move forward from divorce to a faith tradition shared across generations in their large extended family. “You realize you have to be considerate of each other. Everyone goes through difficult times, and you just have to respect each other,” she says. “We’re a very respectful family.”

The baseline of respect, rather than any specific strategy, carried the family through, she believes. “The divorce was very challenging. It was necessary. I felt horrible about it, but they understand the reasons now,” she says.

Ms. Murphy’s first child died at birth, an event that she says brought her closer to God and also, over the years, to her surviving daughter. “We always talked about her as her guardian angel, and she still considers her to be her sister,” Ms. Murphy says. She thinks that Megan’s knowledge of the loss her mother suffered adds another dimension to her daughter’s respect. “I’m glad she still has her faith,” Ms. Murphy notes.

Moving to Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, where Ms. Kacenski moved after graduation last year, she worships in a parish in her lively Manayunk neighborhood. She thinks about starting a women’s Bible study. She gets help in living out her values from an “accountability buddy,” one of several close friends who care for and listen to each other, and offer advice from a place of faith, calling each other out when need be. “You need at least one person in your life like that,” she says.

Her journal, which she went through recently, reads “a lot happier now.” It’s more a recounting of concerts and restaurants and less frustration and upset.

But even though she’s moved, family is still “at the forefront of my life,” she says. “They’re constantly on my mind.” She talks with her mom on the phone every day, and her dad once a week. And whereas they’ve acted for years as her personal cheering section, she’s now one of their boosters, encouraging her mother, especially, in post child-rearing pursuits such as travel and running a 5K. She looks forward to returning home to each of her parents – to enjoying her father’s legendary French toast, to cooking alongside her mom for the holidays.

She agrees with her parents now that divorce was the best thing for their family, and also sees positive fallout from it. There’s the singular bond she and her brother forged as they trekked from one parent’s house to the other’s three times a week. There’s the court-mandated time she spent with her father, which brought them closer than his six-day workweeks had previously allowed.

“When I was younger, I took the Commandment as, ‘They’re your parents. You have to respect them.’ Now, they’re people. Sometimes they make mistakes,” she says. “You have to forgive and move on. [Today] I interpret it as it should be a mutual respect. They’ve pushed me in my adventures, and I want to do the same for them. Now I ask, ‘What’s going on in your life?’ I care what’s going on in their life.”

Ms. Kacenski thinks it’s likely she’ll be sore tomorrow, after the especially demanding day up in the trees. But it’ll be a good sore, she expects, the result of taking on her favorite challenge. She’s hardly able to be outdoors without doing a mental tally of the trees and their needs, from the newly planted replacement tree to the majestic oak she considers irreplaceable.

“When you’re outside with me, I’m always looking up.”

Part 1: The Commandments as a moral source code in modern life

Part 2: How does the First Commandment fit in today?

Part 3: ‘I have to have humility’: How Second Commandment helped man find freedom

Part 4: One woman embraces Third Commandment in feeding 1,600 at Thanksgiving

Part 5: ‘Remember the sabbath’: How one family lives the Fourth Commandment

Part 6: ‘Growing up is hard’: How Fifth Commandment guided a child during divorce

Part 7: Is saying ‘I’d kill for those shoes’ OK? One woman and Sixth Commandment.

Part 8: Is chastity old-fashioned? An NFL veteran’s take on Seventh Commandment.

Part 9: ‘Thou shalt not steal’: Even someone else’s joy, says one educator

Part 10: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’: Ninth Commandment goes to Princeton

Part 11: Jealousy at Ivy League level: How a law professor views Tenth Commandment

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5. ‘Double discrimination’: In French soccer, being female and LGBTQ

French women’s struggle for equal pay and other rights in soccer has made it difficult to make progress on another troubling front:  attitudes around LGBTQ issues. 

Amelia

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For female soccer players in France, makeup and long hair are encouraged – being out and proud is not. While the sport basked in the glow of the World Cup this past summer, it continues to struggle on two fronts: gender equality and LGBTQ issues.

Female players earn much less than male counterparts, and the fight to be seen as equals has hindered progress on talking about homosexuality in the player ranks. There’s a new Professional Football League rule to halt matches over homophobic chants or signs, but being openly gay remains taboo.

“In order to gain ... more visibility for the sport, women players have had to appear more feminine, so that soccer isn’t a marker for being a lesbian,” says Julie Chrétien, a player for a gay-friendly club.

In September, the president of the French Football Federation, which governs pros and amateurs, pitted himself against the pro league by announcing that he would tell referees not to stop games over homophobic incidents. For many LGBTQ players, the sense that the federation doesn’t support them has huge consequences.

“If we say that women’s soccer has to be compatible with femininity, homophobia is not far away,” says Ms. Chrétien.

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‘Double discrimination’: In French soccer, being female and LGBTQ

Mélanie Pieters joins more than 50 women from the FC Paris Arc-en-Ciel soccer club in running drills down a soggy field. Around the perimeter, an all-male team runs laps before moving to one side of the field to play.

Between the rain and the intensity of practice, there’s no time for chatter, and certainly no space for harassment and homophobia. But that hasn’t always been the case. Ms. Pieters, a player and former president of her club, remembers a game where things turned ugly.

“Our team was one goal down and on the verge of a tie when the other team’s coach yelled to his players, ‘Hey, you’re not going to let yourself lose to a bunch of [LGBTQ slur], are you?’” says Ms. Pieters. “At the end of the match, where we usually shake hands, everyone started pushing one another and someone threw [an empty] plastic bottle at our player’s head.”

Soccer matches that end in a brawl are relatively rare. But such offensive comments from coaches, players, and the public remain commonplace in soccer, for both women and men, in France and across Europe. Despite a new rule implemented over the summer by France’s Professional Football League (LFP) to halt matches over homophobic chants or signs – homophobia in French football abounds and being openly gay remains taboo.

Even if there are about 40 world-class international female players who are openly lesbian, no French professional players, male or female, have come out publicly. The continued discrimination that French women face in entering the world of professional soccer has made many hesitant to add another layer of potential prejudice, and the expectation to remain outwardly feminine – by both officials and fans – has forced many into silence.

While France passed a law to allow same sex marriage and adoption in 2013, the country remains conservative compared with its Western European neighbors when it comes to LGBTQ issues. A group called “Maires pour l’Enfance” claims more than 20,000 civil servants who are opposed to the 2013 law. Debate continues over allowing in vitro fertilization for lesbian couples, and there are few openly lesbian public personalities in French society. For the third year in a row, gay rights group SOS Homophobie has reported an increase in homophobic acts. Many experts say it’s no surprise that homosexuality in French soccer remains closeted.

“We’ve seen progress in terms of accepting homosexuality in French society but there is still a lot of discrimination,” says Quentin Leportier, co-founder of equal rights group Ex aequo and an expert on discrimination in sports. “Already, to see two women holding hands publicly is complicated in society, so to see that in sports is even more complicated.”

World Cup glow

Women’s soccer took the limelight this past summer when the FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in France. Since the championship, French clubs have seen an uptick in participation and commercial sponsors are investing more heavily in the sport.

But women’s soccer continues to struggle for equal rights. Women players earn 96% less than their male counterparts, according to a 2017 study by independent monitoring organization L’Observatoire des Inégalités. And women represent just 8% of the nearly 2.2 million people registered with the French Football Federation (FFF), which governs both professional and amateur leagues.

The fight to be seen as equals has hindered progress on talking about players' homosexuality, observers say, as the athletes actively work to avoid double discrimination.

“Women players already withstand sexism in the sport so if on top of that, they say they’re gay – it’s one more opportunity for discrimination and there is an intersectionality that takes place,” says Mr. Leportier.

Some players may avoid bringing attention to their sexuality in order to keep corporate sponsors or for fear of violence, while many cite pressure to appear stereotypically feminine. But this, say some, is just veiled homophobia.

“In order to gain more spectators, more visibility for the sport, women players have had to appear more feminine, so that soccer isn’t a marker for being a lesbian,” says Julie Chrétien, a player for FC Paris Arc-en-Ciel. “But if we say that women’s soccer has to be compatible with femininity, homophobia is not far away.”

Femininity on the field

Catherine Louveau, a sociologist and professor emeritus at l’Université de Paris Sud who specializes in gender and discrimination in sports, says that French female professional football players have received an official directive on their appearance – with instructions to maintain stereotypically feminine attributes, like having long hair, wearing makeup and jewelry, or painting their nails. Some have gone out of their way to post photos of themselves with their male partners on social media in a show of heteronormativity.­

“Sports have been constructed in a very binary way,” says Ms. Louveau, who was a pioneer in talking about feminism in sports in the 1970s. “So when you subvert that, by your clothing or by being gay, it becomes unbearable for some parts of society.”

Soccer’s potential “coming-out” moment has also been hindered by recent national debate over homophobia during games. France’s sports minister in April launched an appeal to stop games over homophobia, as is already done for racist incidents. Since the LFP enacted the rule over the summer, upward of 20 games have been temporarily halted. 

But in September, the president of the FFF pitted himself against the government and the LFP by announcing that he would tell referees not to stop games over homophobic incidents. For many LGBTQ players, the sense that the FFF doesn’t support them has huge consequences.

“If the president of the FFF can say something like that, it legitimizes certain behaviors,” says Ms. Pieters. “How can we then explain to young players that they should or shouldn’t say certain things?”

French women’s soccer might have benefited from openly gay players taking the spotlight during the World Cup, notably U.S. star Megan Rapinoe, who said she would not visit the White House in the event of a U.S. win. But France’s quarter-final appearance in the tournament did not incite anyone to come out.

“We all know very well who is gay but there has been no movement on this front, it’s still too taboo,” says Veronica Noseda, co-founder of Les Dégommeuses, a Paris-based soccer club comprised primarily of lesbian and transgender members. “France is a very universalist society, united by the values of the republic. It’s difficult to declare your differences, which is why there are very few well-known people who have come out, across all domains,” says Ms. Noseda. 

Teams as safe spaces

LGBTQ-friendly soccer teams have sprung up across France as a way to counteract homophobia in the sport. Teams like Les Dégommeuses and FC Paris Arc-en-Ciel are two of many clubs that provide a safe space for gay players. And last summer Paris hosted the 10th Gay Games, an international event held every four years to promote equality in sports.

Antoine Griezmann, France’s star male player, was criticized by some for supporting the LFP decision to stop matches over homophobia and posing for the cover of LGBTQ magazine Têtu. Some said he should stick to kicking the ball.

“Many people say that certain homophobic words used during games are just part of the culture, but we need to remember that they can be extremely hurtful,” says Frédérique Vidal, administrator for Fédération Sportive Gaie et Lesbienne and a soccer player since she was a child. “We shouldn’t have to justify ourselves. ... We just want to play.”

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The Monitor's View

Impeachment watchers need a Thanksgiving break

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Americans riveted by the impeachment hearings might welcome a break over Thanksgiving. In theory, the holiday is a time to wrestle a turkey bone rather than the Trump administration. It is a time to revel in family and friends rather than one’s favorite fibbers and foes. It is a time, as a Pilgrim father Edward Winslow described that post-harvest day in 1621, to “rejoice together.”

In particular, this year’s Thanksgiving needs a bit of shared joy along with the gratitude and grace. According to an October poll, 2 out of 3 voters say the United States is on the “edge of civil war.”

In 2019, the most quintessential of American holidays is a time to sheathe words of rancor. And it is a time to recall why Abraham Lincoln, during the darkest period of the Civil War, issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that was a call to love one’s enemies. He asked that God’s “gracious gifts” be “acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.” He saw the giving of thanks, and the humility it requires, as a healer of a broken constitutional order in a democratic society.

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Impeachment watchers need a Thanksgiving break

Americans riveted by the House impeachment hearings might welcome a break over Thanksgiving. In theory, the holiday is a time to wrestle a turkey bone rather than the Trump administration. It is a time to revel in family and friends rather than one’s favorite fibbers and foes. It is a time, as Pilgrim father Edward Winslow described that post-harvest day in 1621, to “rejoice together.”

In particular, this year’s Thanksgiving needs a bit of shared joy along with the gratitude and grace. According to an October poll, 2 out of 3 voters say the United States is on the “edge of civil war.” Independents are even more worried than partisans about the political divide in the country.

Swords are not being drawn yet. But words are. Personal incivility may be at an all-time high in today’s cut-and-parry politics. If words were swords, the political landscape might look like a turkey carcass late on Thanksgiving Day.

In 2019, the most quintessential of American holidays is a time to sheathe the words of rancor. And it is a time to recall why Abraham Lincoln turned what was once a sporadic national occasion into a regular event that draws people together to practice the core meaning of the holiday.

In 1863, during the darkest period of the Civil War when the Union was at stake, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation served as a call to love one’s enemies. He asked that God’s “gracious gifts” be “acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.” With that purpose set in motion, the holiday easily persisted as a tradition.

Perhaps more than the Pilgrim story – with its troubling meaning for Native Americans – Lincoln’s moment of proclaiming Thanksgiving would be a better historical marker in the 21st century. He saw the giving of thanks, and the humility it requires, as a healer of a broken constitutional order in a democratic society. Gratitude helps open doors to consensus and harmony. G.K. Chesterton called it “the highest form of thought.”

This Thanksgiving could serve as an opportunity to lift thought for the next round of impeachment proceedings.

That alone would be worth rejoicing.

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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.

Effective time management

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Getting through a to-do list is often easier said than done. But when we prioritize listening for God’s inspiration, even in those moments when we’re overwhelmed, we’re empowered to do what we need to do, when we need to do it.

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Effective time management

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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When we have a lot to do, how do we make sure we are accomplishing the right task at the right time? Sometimes we may feel pressure to do too much, while at other times we are idle or unproductive. So how do we find the balance that keeps our days flowing harmoniously?

That’s what I was asking myself soon after my family moved across the country to a rural area. We had lots of unpacking to do, a little child to care for, and no one around to babysit or help us make a dent in the tasks at hand. In addition, my husband had been offered a weeklong opportunity to work at a summer camp a few hours away, and we needed to leave before these other things were finished.

Upon our arrival at the camp, I found it hard not to think about all the tasks that were waiting for us back home. It felt overwhelming. So I turned to the Bible, which I have found to be such a great resource for inspiration on many topics, including time management.

In particular, Christ Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives specific guidance. He said: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ ... For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33, New King James Version).

Jesus clearly understood that we all have human needs, but promised that making God, rather than our to-do list, our priority would result in our needs being met. Even when we have a lot to do for work, school, or our family, we can acknowledge our oneness with Spirit, God, who created us in the image of the Divine. As the spiritual reflection of God, limitless good, we already have all we need. When we keep this spiritual reality in mind and are receptive to God’s inspiration, we are guided to do the right thing at the right time in the right place – harmoniously.

So I decided to spend the week focusing on spiritual growth and study. This was a very enriching time. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours each day exploring the Bible and the textbook of Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy. From this I learned more about God and our relation to God as the spiritual expression of His love, joy, and harmony. I felt a deeply settled peace.

When we returned home, I no longer felt the pressure I had before. We found opportunities to unpack a few boxes during our son’s naps or playtime and to tackle a few more in the evening. There was a rhythm to our work that felt peaceful and natural. And after just a couple of days, all of our items were unpacked and we were settled into our new home. All of the pieces had fallen into place more perfectly than I could have imagined. Best of all was the feeling of peace and harmony that stayed with us.

Now, whenever I find myself pressed for time, I remind myself to pause, be mentally still, and listen for God’s guidance. This brings assurance that God is with me and a tangible sense of the presence of God’s goodness, which counteracts the pressures of time. This spiritual outlook has enabled me to experience more of God’s harmony in life, preventing me from making unwise financial decisions and keeping me from pushing my way forward in unhelpful directions.

You could say Jesus lived in the “eternal now,” always conscious of the kingdom of God and his eternal oneness with God. We don’t have any record of him feeling stressed by time or rushing around. His total awareness of the supremacy of divine Spirit enabled him to overcome matter- and time-based limitations.

Each of us, as we go forward, can strive to keep our thoughts filled with the inspiration and grace that Christ Jesus so embodied and that bring more harmony to our daily experience.

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Viewfinder

A garbage-fueled haze

Amit Dave/Reuters
A stray dog stands on top of a burning garbage dump as smoke billows on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 18, 2019. Garbage fires at the city’s waste dump have prompted air quality concerns.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 19th, 2019 )

Thanks for starting your week with us. Tomorrow, join us again for a look at how Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan became the GOP’s point man on impeachment.

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