1 Unlimited possibilities for everyone
When I first read Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, I discovered the concept that God is Mother, as well as Father. For the first time, I realized that motherhood is a strength, not a weakness. I also found another name for God: Mind. I read that each one of us is the reflection of God, as the Bible states in the first chapter of Genesis. I came to realize that drawing on God's wisdom and intelligence, and on the strength of God's mothering qualities, made me a strong reflection of the divine womanhood. This was a dramatic change for me, as I had been raised in Iran, where I had absorbed a very limited, negative view of myself and of all women.
More recently I noticed another change in my thought, this time in relation to other women. Yes, I had liberated myself from the constraining perceptions of womanhood that I'd been raised with, but I had never extended that freedom to other women of Eastern origin. I had just viewed them as limited and unable to take on intelligent roles or fill leadership positions. I had prejudged Eastern women en masse, believing they were unable to be strong, because of their conditioning.
A recent conference brought a huge change in my perspective. In 2002, I attended the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders in Geneva, Switzerland. There I saw so many Eastern women who had broken through barriers beyond anything I had ever seen women do anywhere before. Whereas I had previously recognized just my own liberty as the child of God, now I saw I had forgotten to apply that understanding to my sisters in the East. I was feeling racial prejudice against my own people. This Bible verse from Galatians is my favorite: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (3:28).
Racial or gender differences do not exist in God's kingdom. Liberty for the children of God is universal, regardless of race, color, gender, or ethnic origin. I realized that I had to go beyond seeing Eastern women only from a physical standpoint. I became aware that each one is a thinking and feeling being who is as unique and valuable in God's sight as I am. By holding on to a limited view of others, I was actually hindering the ability of all of us to make progress.
Our good thoughts act as a catalyst. Their blessings don't stop with just us, but change our working and living environments. For example, it had always bothered me that in the business center where I rent an office I was the only woman. Since I've had this dramatic change in my thinking about the unlimited possibilities of all women, I rejoiced last week when two Asian women began working there.
2 Make that a large pepperoni—but hold the prejudice
When I was a pizza delivery driver in Orlando, Florida, I came face to face with racial prejudice for the first time. And it was scary. Our delivery area was a high-crime neighborhood. All the drivers had been robbed at least once, and we were constantly harassed. Taunts, threats, and rock-throwing were always on the menu.
The police patrolled so much in my area I got to know them well. They told me, forcefully, that I had to get a different job, that this one was too dangerous. But I stayed at it. How could I give up the free pizza? Seriously, I really needed the work. So I stuck with the job, deciding the area was bad because it was "predominantly black."
Then one night, with that handy label in tow, I made a delivery to what I suspected was a crack house. There were a lot of black men standing around outside, glaring at me as I approached the door. But before I could knock, the door swung open and there stood a very large, muscular, young, black man ... with the kindest face. He stepped out and yelled at the other guys to leave me alone. They left. He apologized for the situation and told me that if I ever got in trouble, to run to his house, and he would protect me. I returned to my car relieved, but pensive: He didn't fit my label.
And he wasn't the only one. When teenagers would gang up on me, women residents would sometimes explode out of their front doors, brandishing whatever they could get their hands on—shovels, lawn chairs, baseball bats—and scare the kids away; then they'd turn to me (huddled against my old Honda hatchback with its dorky magnetic pizza-delivery light on top) and say comforting things. It was obvious they didn't want to be labeled based on the actions of a gang of delinquents. They wanted to be judged on their own merits. And let me tell you, I respected their merits ... and their lawnchair-wielding skills, too.
Well, I thought, since black people were showing me so much kindness, the area must be bad because it was low-income. The people there needed delivery, because they didn't have cars—and buses were scarce after sundown.
One night, I had a delivery to a small house that was in pretty sad shape, but you could tell the people who lived there were doing the best they could to make it homey. Looking at their work uniforms, I could tell they were minimum-wage employees. But they were courteous, gave me a very generous tip, and even invited me to sit down with them for dinner on their porch. I was almost moved to tears. Then they had their son go get a couple of neighbor boys to help him escort me to the main road on their bikes. I can't begin to tell you how touching it was to have those children bravely pedaling along in close formation around my car, protecting me in the "valley of the shadow of crime."
Back to the label maker. "All right, if the area isn't bad because it's black or low-income," I said to myself, "it must be bad because the residents are uneducated."
An older couple, in a particularly nasty neighborhood, were freequent customers. I learned that the husband was a sanitation worker, and neither he nor his wife had any formal education. None. And yet they, too, showed me great kindness. They, too, offered me sanctuary, if I ever got in trouble.
One night around midnight I did. After one of the deliveries my car wouldn't start, and my cellphone battery was dead. But I was only two blocks from this couple's house. I ran there. They were already in bed for the night, but they got up and welcomed me in, let me use the phone, and had me wait inside until another driver came to get me. And the wife insisted on fixing me something to eat.
Another time an "uneducated" family stood in a protective circle around me while I changed a flat tire after a late-night delivery.
Those "people labels" just weren't sticking. Finally I decided that if I had to label the residents of this neighborhood, I might as well categorize them the way God does: "His children."
So I dropped those other labels. They weren't at all useful ... or true.
3 Cruel words had no power
As the child of immigrant Mexican parents I, as too many others in my community, experienced racial and gender prejudice as a young woman. One such offense took place in a junior high-school social studies class. The new teacher—a young, handsome man—was one of my favorites. Our recent exams had been handed back to us, and as I looked at my B+, something made me examine the paper more closely than usual. In calculating the score, I discovered the points actually added up to an A-.
After class, I walked up to the teacher and said, "I think I should have gotten an A-. The points were not added up correctly." He looked at me incredulously and quipped back, "Oh, what difference does it made anyway? You'll be married or pregnant by the time you're seventeen."
I was stunned, but I didn't really understand for many years why he'd made those comments. What I didn't know then was that this teacher was operating on a limited stereotype about Mexican American girls. He was completely unaware that my mother had, like all good Mexican mothers, always spoken against premarital sex. She also stressed the idea of putting off marriage until I was at least twenty five, so I could get my education behind me.
Thankfully, my mother's influence on me was greater than the teacher's Nor did I harbor any resentment toward him—because I was taught that as God's child, as a reflection of the Divine, all things were possible for me and for everyone. Consequently, the offending words were meaningless—they had no power over me.
In Revelation, St. John talks about "a new heaven and a new earth" (21:1). "Have you ever pictured this heaven and earth, inhabited by beings under the control of supreme wisdom?" asked Mary Baker Eddy in Science and Health (p. 91). I have. I often ponder how quickly we would disperse and eliminate racial and gender prejudice if each one of us could love more and act on the knowledge that we are spiritual and are defined by our spiritual qualities—virtues such as responsibility, respect, faith, honesty, fortitude, courage, moderation, charity (which is love), and purity.
These are the qualities of Spirit that comprise our true identity. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this, and that is why, as people celebrate his birthday, his words of hope continue to have so much meaning today around the world.
4 Loving your way out of hatred
Since returning to London last January after living in the United States, I've noticed progress in the establishment of a multicultural society in the United Kingdom. Prejudice appears to be less acceptable today than it was a decade ago. For instance, "BBC English" shares more and more broadcast space with regional and ethnic accents; a newspaper that used to stir up prejudice issued an urgent call not to blame Muslims for 9/11; virtually all advertising campaigns are multi-ethnic; women have broken into the male preserve of soccer reporting; and it has become fashionable to be in a racially mixed group of friends.
Progress is still needed toward complete equality for women and ethnic minorities in the workplace, and imbalances remain, for instance, in politics and the arts. Racial abuse surfaces, and sometimes so does violence. Prejudice has not gone away. But at least it's becoming more unpopular.
Prejudice is a terrible trait, with no justification. But from experience, I feel there's a need not to be prejudiced against those who are prejudiced; that is, not to hate the hater. Coming from a Jewish family, I had to learn how to keep from falling into that trap of hatred. I was healed of a lifelong dread of anti-Semitism when I got new views of God's goodness and love through following the example of Jesus and by reading Science and Health. I found that what I needed to gain was a mental freedom, in order to love unconditionally—to strive to love the hater, and to care as much of his/her freedom from hating as for my own freedom from being the object of that hatred.
When people love spiritually, they naturally rejoice in the diversity of God's creation. This disarms hatred's influence over both the hater and the one hated by helping each realize that nothing less than love is the real ideal for any of us. We are all God's children, reflecting the light of God, who is infinite Love.
Mary Baker Eddy was no stranger to prejudice. As a woman in a male-preferring society, she was well aware of bias and discrimination. And she encountered them when she offered her ideas to the public. Yet she followed Jesus' example and loved her opponents in return. From experience, she wrote: "I would enjoy taking by the hand all who love me not, and saying to them, 'I love you, and would not knowingly harm you.' Because I thus feel, I say to others: Hate no one; for hatred is a plague-spot that spreads its virus and kills at last" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883—1896, pp. 11—12).
Can we sincerely utter these same words when we think of those who are racist or sexist, or who disapprove of our lifestyle or heritage? I think the task of irreversibly dismantling prejudice depends on more and more people being able to answer, "Yes."
5 Allow room for others' healing
It was in a Christian Science Reading Room in the heart of Johannesburg that I started my journey toward the healing of prejudice—my prejudice against white racists, who up until then had made my life very hard.
I had sold vegetables on the streets of the city to earn money for college, but that dream of a higher education remained out of reach until the staff in the Christian Science Reading Room pointed out to me that I didn't have to be limited by others' warped views of me. Prejudice is not a quality of God. The apartheid system in my country could not restrict the development and progress of any child of God. "God is more than capable of handling this," they reasoned with me. "That's the higher study that must come first."
This approach shoved me into all sorts of exciting discoveries about myself and the environment in which I lived. I became confident that this environment could be improved. People can change when the light of love shines into their thinking. "I have a flashlight," it dawned on me. "So, switch it on!"
With help from several loving people in the branch Church of Christ, Scientist, that I had begun to attend, I was enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand. This was unbelievable! But there was much more to be proved.
Good marks in mathematics at high school had qualified me to study for a degree in statistics and actuarial sciences. But many of our lecturers didn't disguise the fact that they thought the course was too hard for blacks. Once when I asked a lecturer for help during a tutorial, he responded, "Of course you wouldn't be able to answer this question. It's meant for 'A' students." Obviously, he didn't want to help.
But by now I was learning to watch my thoughts. I realized I didn't have to react with frustration or anger. I didn't have to tear out my hair and ask, "When are these racists in academic disguise going to get it?"
One day, I read the 17th chapter of Luke's Gospel in the Bible, where the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. And Jesus answered, "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."
I wondered how could I have missed the simple fact that God's goodness isn't something we have to search for or wait for. Apartheid didn't have to end for me to find my complete and proper status as a child of God. All of God's goodness was already within me. I already expressed qualities such as love, joy, patience, insight, and intelligence. And so did all the others who had been discriminating against me. They were also children of God.
That line of thinking liberated me to look at myself and say, "I don't want to be prejudiced against them, just as I want them to be liberated from this notion that one race is inferior to another."
The not-so-subtle contempt that had been developing in my mind for prejudiced people on either side began to lessen. I knew that there was no "me versus them" in God's kingdom. There was only God's love for all of us. God had put me in that university class, and God would carry me through the course—with joy. Which He did! I graduated in three years.
Now I view my experiences as an ongoing healing that people all need to have, especially in South Africa. I'm more convinced than ever that the real challenge is to wake up from the dream that we are just human beings who are always in conflict. I believe that we are all trying to find our true identity as spiritual ideas of God.
This has given me a lot of comfort. Now, when I see someone showing prejudice, I just love them. I recognize that they are needing to find their own identity. I must be patient. I must allow room for them to experience God's healing power.
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